Russian River Watershed Overview
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The Russian River watershed is comprised of nearly 1,500 square miles of forests, agricultural lands, and urban lands in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, as well as tributaries including Big Sulphur Creek, Mark West Creek, Maacama Creek, Dry Creek, and the East Fork of the Russian River. Two major reservoirs provide water supply for the Russian River watershed: Lake Mendocino on the East Fork of the Russian River, and Lake Sonoma on Dry Creek.

The Russian River provides water to over 700,000 residents in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Marin counties, including numerous Native American Tribes. Water from the Russian River irrigates food crops and supports sensitive wildlife ecosystems, providing habitat for thirty-four species of fish, including endangered salmon and steelhead. The Russian River is also a major recreational asset for the region and supports the quality of life and vitality of inland Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Combined Consequences: Drought, Flooding, and Loss of Water Diversion

Climate change is bringing unpredictable and increasingly extreme fluctuations in weather, from drought to overly wet seasons. Extended dry periods and warmer weather intensify flood risk due to storms producing more rain than snow. In recent years, California and the Russian River watershed have been impacted by both historic drought and flooding. It’s crucial to prepare for both of these extremes.

chinook salmon
Photo credit: Justin Smith
Photo credit: Jak Wonderly, Sonoma Water

With PG&E moving toward decommissioning the Potter Valley Project (PVP) — and the potential reduction of the water diversion to the Russian River — downstream water shortages in coming years are predicted to worsen, posing a serious threat to businesses, cities, residents, Tribes, farms, wildlife, and riverine habitat. With the cessation of the water diversion, losses in the tens of millions of dollars per year would be expected to the economies of Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

Photo credit: Sonoma Water