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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Russian River Flows and Photo Documentation Project

Update of River Flows & Photo Project
By Brenda Adelman

Memorial Day Weekend, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee and friends began clicking away at popular Russian River locations. Our photo project had begun and will continue weekly through the first weekend in October. We are committed to photographing Hacienda, Guerneville (Johnson’s and Dubrava beaches), and Monte Rio beaches every weekend, when recreation use is high. Several people have volunteered to photograph other popular beaches, and we will report their results in August.

Flows can get much lower…

As you recall, the State Water Board granted the Sonoma County Water Agency the authority to lower flows down to 35 cubic feet per second (cfs) measured at the Hacienda Bridge. The goal was to save water in Lake Mendocino for the fall Chinook migration. Because we have had a relatively cool summer so far, they have not needed to do that and flows have stayed between 125 cfs and 175 cfs for the last month. 125 cfs is the minimum for a normal year, but we expect flows to go quite a bit lower when the weather heats up. We want to have a photo record over the entire summer so we can document the effects. (This is being written on July 10th.)

We want to identify flow levels, impacts on recreation, and visible water quality impairments such as invasive Ludwegia growths and large algae clumps. Most of the pictures we’ve taken so far, are from the major bridges and give a panorama view. At the same time we are keeping track of flow levels as measured at Hacienda and temperatures on the day we shoot. We found that there was very high river use during the hot weather. Over July 4th weekend, when it was fairly cool (about low 70’s and windy), recreationist numbers were much lower than the week before, when it was in the ‘90’s.

Water quality needs watching…
Water quality tests for bacteria have caused concern at times at Johnson’s and Monte Rio Beaches. Signs went up a few times telling people to swim at their own risk. We heard of one dog getting sick last weekend after swimming in the river. But bacteria data is finicky. It can be high one day and back to normal the next. One kid or pet that “goes” in the water right before a sample is taken, can skew the results that can disappear an hour later.

Also, stirring up the river bottom muck can also muddy the water and cause bacteria counts to rise. Tests are usually taken weekly, but if they get positive results, they go back again. Our advice: if you have health issues, it might be better to stay out of the water or find a remote beach somewhere where contamination is less likely to occur. If you are pretty healthy, you probably don’t have to worry much.

We are also very concerned about the large mats of algae in the river and the bright green Ludwegia growing from the bank. We are especially concerned about what will happen if the weather heats up and the river goes down. The nutrients and invasive plants are likely to proliferate.

There have been several reports of large clumps of dark green algae from Rio Nido to Monte Rio. In some cases, it has come up suddenly and actually coated the rocks on the riverbanks with muck. We were told that the Monte Rio beach concession had to rake out large amounts of algae right where they rent their canoes. We could use help photographing these conditions. Please send us dated digital photos and locations noted if you are able to help us document these conditions. So far the water quality data being collected has not really indicated problems with nutrients in spite of these conditions, so it is extremely important that we document them visually.

RRWPC has been trying to take the same photos in the same locations from week to week so we can see how the lowering of the flow affects recreational use. This is proving more challenging than we thought, since getting the exact same angle and magnification each time is difficult. Also, there are dams at Johnson’s and Vacation Beaches (about a mile downstream from Johnson’s) and they have a major affect on water levels at those locations. Nevertheless, we can still demonstrate some of the differences over the course of time, especially when flows go very low.

Noticing the impacts….
What we have noticed is that if you look at the body of the water each week between 125 cfs and 200 cfs you don’t notice a huge difference in the amount of water. But then if you notice permanent fixtures, like signs, you can see the water levels gradually going down. You can also watch people cross the river at Monte Rio beach and for most, it doesn’t even come up to their knees. In some places, large dogs can run across and not even have to swim.

So far, kayaks and canoes can still maneuver pretty well. We have been told that they start having major problems at 85 cfs. If the weather stays cool, maybe we can get through most of the summer without losing the canoe season. We saw hundreds of boats all up and down the river in the hot weather especially. It is an extremely popular past time for visitors and local residents alike.

Would you like to help?
If any of you like to photograph and have a digital camera, please send us pictures. We would like to have the photos dated and we would appreciate a description of where they were taken. You can email them to:

PHOTOS by Larry Hanson, Shula Zuckerman, Laurie Ross

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