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Drought is pummeling the Russian River. Here’s what you need to know

How is the Russian River managed?

The Russian River is running at very low flows amid the ongoing drought, but it likely would be dry or nearly so, were it not for human engineering.

At Lake Mendocino, created in 1958 by damming the East Fork of the Russian River outside Ukiah, stored water stored is being released to maintain a minimum stream flow in the upper watershed.

By comparison, the river’s west fork, unsupplemented, is shallow and still — and likely to go dry in stretches this season.

Flows in the lower main stem river receive water released from Lake Sonoma through Dry Creek. The reservoir was created in 1983 through construction of Warm Springs Dam northwest of Healdsburg.

Both reservoirs are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Sonoma Water, which manages dam releases in the drier months. The Army Corps takes over during the rainy season, with a focus on flood control.

From near Forestville, Sonoma Water pumps supplies to retailers serving about 600,000 people in Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

It is also manages the river to sustain and restore endangered coho salmon as well as chinook salmon and steelhead trout, both listed as threatened under species.

River managers also seek to provide sufficient flows for recreational uses as well as available supplies for some 2,400 individual households, community water districts and agricultural interests with state rights to divert water, particularly in the upper watershed, north of Dry Creek.

For more information on the Russian River’s water supply system, visit: sonomawater.org/water-supply

Who looks out for the Russian River?

People from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of groups and agencies help safeguard the river and advocate on its behalf. For more information on their work visit:

Russian Riverkeeper, russianriverkeeper.org

Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, www.goldridgercd.org

Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, lagunafoundation.org

Sonoma Land Trust, sonomalandtrust.org

Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, stewardscr.org

LandPaths, landpaths.org

Sonoma County Regional Parks, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast

The Russian River serves as a main source of drinking water for more than 600,000 people in Sonoma, Mendocino and northern Marin counties. It is a refuge for endangered salmon runs and supports a thriving recreational economy. Much of the region’s $12-plus billion wine industry wouldn’t be here without it.

It is also under extraordinary strain amid the ongoing drought. Here is a snapshot of how the crisis is playing out in a watershed vital to our lives and local economy:

*The river’s 110-mile main stem is still flowing — fed by minimum releases from two dams. But its tributaries are drying up and its two main reservoirs are lower now than they’ve ever been at this time of year.

*To ensure enough drinking water exists, state regulators have begun ordering several thousand water rights holders to halt their diversions from the river. The move affects grape growers, ranchers, rural residents and some communities in Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

*Sonoma Water, the region’s main wholesaler for drinking water, has cut by 20% its use of river water, leading local cities that supply residents and businesses begin ordering mandatory water savings for homes and businesses.

*The drought, combined with rising peak and average temperatures, have put the river’s prized salmon and steelhead trout runs — a small fraction of what they were a half century ago — in new jeopardy. Some of the young migratory fish already have been rescued from shrinking pools in tributaries. They face a long dry season before winter rains return.

*Drought can exacerbate some of the river’s long-standing problems, including excessive nutrient, bacteria and sediment levels, which can impact water quality. The problems are tied to decades of heavy logging, gravel extraction, wastewater leakage, farm runoff and urban development.

*The river remains a vital ecosystem and engine of the local economy. It is beloved destination for generations of families and visitors from across the world. And its future depends on careful stewardship, conservation of resources and a shared understanding of its value to our region.

How is the Russian River managed?

The Russian River is running at very low flows amid the ongoing drought, but it likely would be dry or nearly so, were it not for human engineering.

At Lake Mendocino, created in 1958 by damming the East Fork of the Russian River outside Ukiah, stored water stored is being released to maintain a minimum stream flow in the upper watershed.

By comparison, the river’s west fork, unsupplemented, is shallow and still — and likely to go dry in stretches this season.

Flows in the lower main stem river receive water released from Lake Sonoma through Dry Creek. The reservoir was created in 1983 through construction of Warm Springs Dam northwest of Healdsburg.

Both reservoirs are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Sonoma Water, which manages dam releases in the drier months. The Army Corps takes over during the rainy season, with a focus on flood control.

From near Forestville, Sonoma Water pumps supplies to retailers serving about 600,000 people in Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

It is also manages the river to sustain and restore endangered coho salmon as well as chinook salmon and steelhead trout, both listed as threatened under species.

River managers also seek to provide sufficient flows for recreational uses as well as available supplies for some 2,400 individual households, community water districts and agricultural interests with state rights to divert water, particularly in the upper watershed, north of Dry Creek.

For more information on the Russian River’s water supply system, visit: sonomawater.org/water-supply

Who looks out for the Russian River?

People from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of groups and agencies help safeguard the river and advocate on its behalf. For more information on their work visit:

Russian Riverkeeper, russianriverkeeper.org

Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, www.goldridgercd.org

Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, lagunafoundation.org

Sonoma Land Trust, sonomalandtrust.org

Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, stewardscr.org

LandPaths, landpaths.org

Sonoma County Regional Parks, parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast

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