Report on the Russian Riverkeeper presentation on October 22

At the October 22nd meeting, Bob Legge, the Policy and Outreach Coordinator for the Russian Riverkeeper organization, gave a presentation on what his organization is doing to protect the Russian River. Mr. Legge outlined some of the major threats to the river, the source of drinking water for 600,000 Marin and Sonoma County residents. With current drought conditions, the community’s focus has been on essential water conservation. Mr. Legge explained how the degradation of riparian corridors has compromised the ability of the river to recharge and retain a critical water supply.

Most people think of the river as the area between the banks, but this neglects one of the river’s essential components- the floodplains next to the rivers. These riparian areas are critical to water quality, as well as providing habitats and food sources for birds and fish. On the Russian River, 90% of riparian areas have been lost because of urban development, clearing of land for agriculture, and the channelization of tributary creeks and the river.

Gravel has been extracted from the river since 1900, including highly damaging practices such as digging deep pits in the middle of the channel. This practice led to severe erosion of the river banks, cutting the river off from historic floodplains and damaging wildlife habitats. The recognition of these negative outcomes led to the founding of the Friends of the Russian River in 1993, as a voice against gravel mining, and to protect the river for wildlife and the community. Friends of the River later became the Russian Riverkeeper, a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which has more than 200 chapters worldwide.

The organization is working on several fronts to reverse the damages to the Russian River. The Hanson Gravel Pit Restoration Project near Windsor is converting a 357-acre gravel quarry site into a self-sustaining off-channel wetland complex, which will eliminate bank erosion, create fish habitats, increase groundwater recharging, and provide filters for fine sediment. The project is supported by both the building and agricultural sectors.

In addition to this large project, the organization is working with school students to create bioswales onsite to collect residues from parked cars, to filter out pollutants in an environmentally friendly way before the runoff finds its way back into the river system. In another project, volunteers work to remove non-native plants along the river, replacing them with native plants for riparian corridors.

Those at the meeting came away with a fuller understanding of how the Russian River has been damaged by growth and how the work of the Russian Riverkeeper organization is helping bring the river back to a healthier and more natural state.

— Barry Hirsch

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