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Monday, September 7, 2009

Sonoma County Creeks- Too Warm for Salmonids

Warm Streams – Warm Rivers
By Terrence Fleming, Program Coordinator
Community Clean Water Institute

The water is low, slow and probably warm. This is an observation that anyone can make if they even as much as glance at the Russian River and any streams that flow through Sonoma County. Now, we need to follow this conclusion with questions that ask whether these conditions are simply part of our climate’s seasonal changes, driven by drought and the warming of our planet, or whether there’s something deeper going on. No pun intended.

Community Clean Water Institute’s dedicated volunteers have been gathering water quality data for Sonoma County’s creeks and rivers since 2001. Recently, our water quality monitoring data is showing that many local streams are at temperatures far above what juvenile salmon can tolerate. Surely, we live in a Mediterranean climate and the hot summer months would warm the water and, along with a dry 2008-09 winter and spring, we might expect warmer streams that struggle to maintain minimum flow levels. What should make one curious is that folks who live on these waterways are reporting the lowest and slowest streams they’ve ever seen, as well as mortality rates in rearing steelhead reaching 100 percent.

These questions could, and definitely should, naturally meander to thoughts of global climate change and how this calamity is fueling our water issues. No surprise, the gradual warming of the planet is making our already dry climate even drier and we should deal with our trickling streams on a bigger scale. We can then use logic such as, “if we drive less and stop clear-cutting forests we’ll help conserve our streams and the salmon which depend on them.”

As with any environmental concern, there are many factors at play, and all of these thoughts have a place in the larger picture. We should drive less and we shouldn’t clear-cut, as these changes would lead to a reduction in carbon release, thus lessening the impact of global warming on our waterways. So once we’ve purchased a bike, obtained a bus schedule, and written a letter to our supervisor asking them to stop a proposed clear cut in their district we should then ask, “What can we do to keep the water flowing and as cool as possible during these dry times?”

Keeping the water in the streams is a very good answer! Shallow and stagnant streams are more susceptible to warmer temperatures and diverting water during dry times will further decrease stream quality. Pumping during shortages can even lead to fish kills such as the ones that occurred in April of 2008 on Felta Creek and the Russian River when local vineyards used stream water for frost protection. We also need to preserve groundwater, especially during this time of year when there is no storm runoff and the existing stream flow is made possible by groundwater baseflow.

Protecting riparian vegetation is another answer that may not be as widely acknowledged as it should be. Every stream in the county is currently experiencing low summer flows, and although warmer than in winter months, not all of them have temperatures that consistently exceed salmon survival limits. It seems that what are keeping these streams from coming to an ecological boil are the willows, alders, bays and other riparian plants that have been spared during land alterations.

Keeping trees around benefits a stream in so many ways besides just providing shade. They can also help minimize bank erosion, provide needed organic material and habitat to aquatic organisms, and reduce runoff, and increase groundwater recharge and storage for baseflow.
Blucher Creek, Santa Rosa Creek, Windsor Creek, and Austin Creek are some of the streams that currently have temperatures above documented salmon thresholds and we’re wondering where riparian shading plays into this tangled enviro-equation. If it is a huge role, can we protect existing corridors? Do we need to adopt a strong riparian ordinance? Will it be followed? Will this ordinance be enforced? These are all questions we should ask ourselves, but let’s make it snappy, for the water will only get warmer.

To learn more about the efforts of the Community Clean Water Institute - log on to their web site: They have many ways to keep informed as well as opportunities to participate.

First Saturday Clean-Up is an opportunity to volunteer your time to improve creeks in Santa Rosa. These are also educational opportunities as well as work experience for teens.

September 26 -
Community Clean Water Institute and the City of Santa Rosa's Creek Stewardship Program will be co-hosting a Water Quality and Flow Monitoring Workshop and Training on Saturday, September 26th at 10am on Santa Rosa Creek! Great skills for Green Jobs! This event is free and open to the public. Meet at Pierson Street Bridge on Santa Rosa Creek at 10 am.

Contact Info:
Terrance Fleming
Community Clean Water Institute
Program Coordinator
707/824.4370 v
707/824.4372 f

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