A healthy watershed recharges groundwater, provides flood protection, and keeps water clean and cool as it flows through native plants growing at the river’s edge. Very importantly, it also provides gravel spawning grounds for local Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout populations. Healthy salmon and steelhead populations are a strong indicator that the watershed is healthy.
Humans are hard on rivers. We crowd their banks, dump waste in them and take out water, fish and other resources. In the process, waterways often end up reduced to narrow, contaminated channels. The salmon and steelhead populations have declined dramatically across Sonoma County — primarily due to decreases in freshwater flows, poor water quality, gravel mining and degraded spawning habitat — all indicating that our watershed’s health is rapidly deteriorating.
Water and land are inextricably linked as water flows over, through and across our landscapes. Using innovative science, we have identified the most strategic land and waterways to protect and restore for expanding essential habitats for fish, birds and other wildlife while, simultaneously, building community resilience to severe storms, droughts, flooding and sea level rise.
The Russian River Watershed is the largest in Sonoma County. It delivers drinking water to more than 600,000 people daily and supplies much of the water for irrigation. We have identified five key subwatersheds within the Russian River Watershed — Dutch Bill, Green Valley, Maacama, Mark West and Mill Creek — where we can acquire, restore and steward land and water resources to have the greatest potential to help humans and fish thrive.
In early May, 2021, we completed a conservation easement project protecting 758 acres along the Russian River — one of the largest remaining ranches on the middle reach. Preserving these nearly three miles of healthy, intact riparian habitat will protect land and water in salmon watersheds.
Our work integrates land management practices that benefit healthy watersheds on our preserves and our easement properties, like restoring native vegetarian along Tolay and Bidwell creeks, and removing barriers on Stuart Creek. Stream restoration and augmented water flow replenish groundwater, improve water quality, and keep streams cool and flowing to create healthy fish habitat year-round.