Summer on the Russian River…..The Russian River appeared broad and full as photographed from the Monte Rio Bridge recently with camera’s eye facing downstream, however there were clues that the river was not as it seemed. A man was standing with his daughter in the middle of the river; the water barely covered their ankles. The green algae sparkled in the sun beneath the shallow surface of the water. Numerous bathers hung out at the Monte Rio Beach that hot summer day, but only the dogs could swim there. Then, viewing the river from the upstream side, canoes could be seen negotiating the mats of algae drifting on the water’s surface. In close up, it was not a pretty sight.
Beaches posted Aug. 21st with Caution Warnings re: toxic blue-green algae…..On August 21st, a notice came through from the Sonoma County Department of Health Services stating: “Recreational users of the Russian River are encouraged to take precautions”. This was the first official notice for the Russian River citing toxic blue-green algae, and an issue of concern for Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC). The Klamath and Eel Rivers and Clear Lake have had serious problems with toxic algae. We spotted something similar in 2009, but its presence was never publicly declared, even while environmental conditions in the lower river strongly favored such an outbreak. (See RRWPC’s 2009 Photo Project at website: www.rrwpc.org )
The Russian River appeared broad and full as we photographed from the Monte Rio Bridge recently, facing downstream, however there were clues that it was not. A man was standing with his daughter in the middle of the river; the water came barely to their ankles. The green algae sparkled in the sun beneath the shallow surface of the water. Many people hung out at the Monte Rio Beach on this hot summer day, but only the dogs could swim there. Then, viewing the river from the upstream side of the bridge, we could see canoes floating among the mats of algae drifting on the water’s surface. In close up, it was not a pretty sight.
Current downstream river conditions and the Estuary Project…..Monte Rio water levels rise when the mouth is closed, but as of mid-August the mouth had been open for almost two months, allowing very low flows. This condition was supposed to contribute to summer mouth closures, but it hasn’t, and the Estuary Management Project required by the Biological Opinion (BO) to create a fresh water environment for juvenile steelhead fish, has not been successfully implemented since BO’s release in 2008. Nevertheless, in spite of excessive phosphorus pollution in the lower river (along with warm water and low flows contributing to possibly toxic algal overloads), the Water Agency moves forward in demanding a permanent 35% lowering of minimum summer flows in the lower river. They have also expressed little concern for toxic chemical pollution, since fishery agencies ignore toxic exposure impacts to fish.
You might want to consult a Ouija board to find out when the drought will end or even when it started. We have been getting very confusing signals not only from weather patterns and rainfall amounts, but also from the people who track them. Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) claims we are in the fourth year of drought, but rainfall numbers don’t necessarily bear that out. On the other hand, Lake Pillsbury and Lake Mendocino are definitely ‘low’ now, even though, according to the State’s calculations, they have had a ‘normal’ rain year.
Erratic rainfall averages during the last four years….As an example, Santa Rosa normally gets an average of 32” of rain each season. In 2012, Santa Rosa got 37.58” for entire year according to the University of California Cooperative Extension. In 2013, they had 4.85”, in 2014: 34.66”, and in the first five months of 2015: 4.33”. So according to the numbers, in the last four years we have had two normal years, one very dry year, and this year is definitely lower than normal but we don’t know final numbers yet.