Russian River watershed protection campaign focuses on keeping storm drains for rain only
Most people pass by storm drains day in and day out, giving little thought to them as conduits to local waterways — and ultimately, the Russian River in much of Sonoma County.
An alliance of local cities, special districts and the county wants to change that.
The coalition has launched a regional campaign to raise public awareness about the link between surface streets and local creeks in hopes people will think again about allowing litter, pet waste and other pollutants to escape down the drain and into the Russian River watershed, home to salmon and steelhead trout and a wide range other aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
The $60,000 Streets to Creek campaign is intended to promote the fact that storm drains are basically extensions of creeks and streams. Anything left on or in the street — dripped motor oil, pesticide residue, discarded trash or cigarette butts — is basically left to be washed into the river.
“There is surprisingly little awareness about where storm drains actually flow to,” said Andy Rodgers, executive director of the Russian River Watershed Association, a stewardship group formed in 2003 by Sonoma and Mendocino counties, eight cities and the Sonoma County Water Agency. “There’s a number of folks who have the impression that all water goes to the wastewater treatment plants. Other people don’t really think about where it goes.”
Case in point: On Aug. 10, three people living in a motorhome were caught by a neighbor emptying a 50-gallon tank of raw sewage into a storm drain in Santa Rosa’s Junior College neighborhood.
Police arrested the trio and had the sewage cleaned up before it could leave the site. But the incident highlights the vulnerability of the storm drain system. It built to handle rainwater runoff and should handle little else.
“We really want people to know this water is not treated,” said Elise Howard, communications coordinator for the city of Santa Rosa. “It’s going straight to our creeks.”
The city of Santa Rosa alone has more than 338 miles of storm drain, as well as more than a hundreds miles of creek, said Nick Sudano, senior environmental specialist for storm water and creeks.
“It doesn’t take long in our city, once something gets into the storm drain, for it to actually reach some creek or stream,” he said.
The multimedia Streets to Creeks campaign is intended to provide cohesive messaging throughout the region while targeting four particular habits that are known to be a source of water pollution and contamination but which can be easily addressed by a willing public, Howard said.
They include picking up dog waste and getting it in the trash bin before irrigation or rain can transport it and the bacteria it contains from the yard to the gutter and into the storm drain.
Any car washing ideally should be done at a commercial car wash, where the used water is captured and recycled, officials said. If car washing is done at home, used soapy water should be disposed in a sink or allowed to soak into the ground, in a lawn or a planter strip.
Experts say gardeners and landscapers should keep one eye on the weather, using herbicides and fertilizers only when they know they won’t get washed into the streets. People tending to yards need to watch out for leaf debris, compost, mulch and other materials, as well, sprinkler over-spray and irrigation runoff, they said.