The Russian River watershed has been selected as the first Habitat Focus Area under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint. This is an important step to increase the effectiveness of NOAA’s habitat conservation science and management efforts by identifying places where NOAA offices work to meet multiple habitat conservation objectives on a watershed scale.
A WATERSHED IN NEED
The Russian River drains 1,485 square miles, including much of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, and is home to endangered coho and threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. In fact, the river’s once vibrant coho and steelhead runs earned it a reputation as a premiere recreational fishing destination. But by 2000, coho salmon were virtually extinct from the river and the remaining habitats are badly degraded.
Heavy demand for and competing uses of the river’s water adds to the stress on fish. As a valuable resource for Sonoma and Mendocino County agriculture and viticulture, as well as domestic water supply, water extraction from the river and tributaries can leave fish stranded during periods of critical demand in the spring, summer, and early fall. Russian River Valley communities are also impacted by frequent flooding. Steep hills and numerous canyons make accurate rainfall predictions and flood forecasts difficult.
WHAT CAN NOAA DO?
NOAA’s expertise in flood and weather forecasting, integrated monitoring, habitat protection and restoration, stakeholder education, and coastal and ocean planning and management will be critical to addressing these issues.
The objectives we have identified in the Russian River include:
- Rebuilding endangered coho and threatened steelhead stocks to sustainable levels through habitat protection and restoration.
- Improving frost, rainfall, and river forecasts in the Russian River watershed through improved data collection and modeling.
- Increasing community resiliency to flooding damage through improved planning and water management strategies.
Multiple offices within NOAA join an already active community of partners working on these issues in the Russian River watershed . NOAA’s National Ocean Service, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA Research, and the National Weather Service have begun numerous projects that are expected to yield measurable results in three to five years. Three restoration projects already underway are opening coho salmon breeding grounds, turning gravel pits into habitat for salmon, and improving habitat to reduce flooding and recover fish populations.
NOAA will now develop an implementation plan for the Russian River and launch the selection process for the next Habitat Focus Area.