Laguna de Santa Rosa now drains freely

Summer work clears two-mile stretch of waterway once choked by wood debris and garbage.|

Imagine someone throwing old rubber tires, glass and plastic bottles, tennis balls, a television and a vehicle transmission into your bathtub. It probably wouldn’t drain very well, would it?

That’s a point local conservationists and Sonoma County officials drove home Thursday afternoon during an event that marked the end of a major garbage cleanup of an important local waterway.

In this case, the bathtub is the Laguna de Santa Rosa and its “drain” is a key two-mile stretch of water that, over the years, has been choked off and obscured by wood debris, sediment, gravel and garbage.

Thanks to a multi-agency partnership and the hard work of at-risk youth, the waterway between Guerneville and River roads, one mile west of Olivet Road, is flowing freely again, feeding the Russian River and Pacific Ocean and attracting small fish and the unique birds eager to eat them.

“The most important part of a bathtub is the drain,” said 4th District Supervisor James Gore during the event that celebrated the end of a $50,000 cleanup. The eight-week effort was spearheaded by a number of organizations, including the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, the county Human Services Department and Social Advocates for Youth, or SAY.

It was funded by the Water Agency and the Occidental County Sanitation District as part of a settlement of fines levied against the water agency by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The money went to the Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps, which contracted with SAY youth to do the work.

“We found transmissions of cars, we found water heaters,” said Anthonie Vasquez, 19, who has been with SAY for two years. “This kind of work is really hard.”

Michael Bradley, 22, another SAY youth, said it was startling to see critters such as crawdads living in the stream among all the garbage. Bradley also said the work was difficult and involved pulling tangled weeds, branches and logs.

“The hardest thing is coming back the next day, but somebody has to do it,” he said.

The garbage collected over the summer, which includes cans of spray paint, 55 gallon drums filled with oil and a bottle of insecticide, is piled along the stream next to a corn field. The pile is about 12 feet high and about 10 yards wide and will be hauled away later.

Wood and tree branches were collected in several large piles that will be moved into the corn field after harvest and burned in an environmentally friendly method that is beneficial to the corn fields.

The Laguna de Santa Rosa stream is the confluence of Santa Rosa and Mark West creeks. Mike Thompson, assistant general manager for the Sonoma County Water Agency, said sediment dumped into the Laguna from the Santa Rosa Creek has raised the level of the Laguna roughly 5 feet in the past 20 years. While flooding is good for the surrounding agricultural fields, that causes them to be flooded for longer periods of time, beyond the desired winter period.

The project germinated several years ago from discussions between property owners along the Laguna de Santa Rosa channel and the Sonoma County Water Agency. Kathy Denner Reese, a partner in Denner Ranches, said Thursday that the cleanup now allows the channel to drain better during the spring and summer.

“We couldn’t even get out there to look at the stream, there was so much debris and garbage,” Denner Reese said. “Now we have a beautiful waterway.”

Thompson said the water agency is now applying for multi-million dollar grants that would allow further restoration of the Laguna area.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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