The Russian River flows through central and western Sonoma County. With its tributaries, it drains most of the northern, central and western part of the county. In addition to providing much of the county with drinking and irrigation water, it is a vital wildlife habitat, particularly for endangered salmon and steelhead, and a major recreation asset for the county. It’s used by all and abused by too many. Everyone claims a right to use it, but no one feels a responsibility to care for it.
The beaches and sandbars along the river are popular picnic and party spots, and with the onset of summer, quickly become littered with cans and bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, campfires, discarded pool toys and beach chairs, and lost or discarded clothing. Tippy canoeists add a steady stream of chip bags, sunscreen tubes, drink bottles and sandals to the river. Fishermen discard plastic foam bait containers and packaging from their tackle.
(photos by angry local Travis J., under the Alexander Valley bridge)
Some people see the river as an alternative to paying dump fees, especially along the more isolated reaches where there is a minimal risk of being caught. Therefore, household garbage, broken TV’s, microwaves, mattresses, easy chairs, construction and remodeling debris, and automobile parts and tires are thrown down the banks, to be ultimately washed downstream.
Homeless and Migrant Worker Camps
In the summer, the riparian forest along the banks of the river becomes an attractive place for people who have nowhere else to live. With no public services, the nearest clump of willows becomes a handy garbage can.
Flood and Agricultural Debris
Agriculture, particularly grapes, is a major activity along the entire course of the river. Agricultural debris, such as plastic sheeting and netting, pipe, hose, buckets and other containers, often find their way into creeks and then into the river itself. During heavy rains, flood waters sweep through fields and riverside houses, taking away everything not fastened down and some things that were. Cleanup crews have recovered everything from smashed canoes to the kitchen sink including, surprisingly enough, an empty casket!
For more information, visit: State Water Resources Control Board