Click on a watershed below, or use the drop down box:

overview map Potters Valley Redwood Valley Ukiah Valley Hopland-Sanel Valley Upper Dry Creek Valley Alexander Valley Dry Creek Valley Lower Russian River Knight Valley Russian River Valley Coastal Sonoma Windsor/Santa Rosa Healdsburg and Chalk Hill Valley

The million acre watershed of the Russian River is one of the largest drainages in northern California. The 110-mile river knits together a landscape of contrasts: steep mountains with coniferous forest, chaparral, and oak woodland flanking wide flat river valleys.

Upstream of Ukiah, the Russian River forms from two forks and courses through a series of alluvial valleys separated by hard rock gorges. These valleys have supported farming for over a hundred and fifty years.

Numerous tributaries drain the mountains, creating and sustaining habitats for salmon and trout, many species of birds and small mammals, and larger wildlife such as mountain lion, black bear, deer, coyote, and bobcat. Several cities—Santa Rosa, Ukiah, and Windsor—have grown and replaced agricultural lands over the past 50 years; however, urban areas still occupy less than 10% of the total Russian River watershed.


Russian River


The grape harvest was a family affair


The Russian River was formerly a world-class steelhead fishery, attracting anglers until the recent decline in fish populations. This decline is due to numerous factors:

  • Two large federal water projects—Coyote Dam and Warm Springs Dam—which inundated hundreds of miles of stream habitat and have caused incision of the river channel;
coyote dam photo

Coyote Dam created Lake Mendocino.
warm springs dam photo

Warm Springs Dam created Lake Sonoma.

The Coyote dam retains all of the river’s gravel, causing the river channel to entrench into its floodplain with frequent bank failures.
  • Industrial gravel mining including both the river channel and pit mining in the floodplain;

Industrial gravel pits are 80 ft. deep and hold groundwater. They are permanent scars on the landscape and have been breached by river floods many times.

The removal of such large volumes of gravel from the river has resulted in significant environmental damage to the Russian River channel as shown in this photo of the 20 foot eroding banks.
  • Large scale clear-cut logging from the 1950s to 1970s to supply timber for California’s population boom;

1800s logging of redwoods in the Russian River.

1960’s widespread clear-cut logging using tractors

Conshea Creek area of Upper East Austin Creek Sub-basin in 1941-42, showing dense coniferous forest.

Conshea Creek in 1961 after clear-cut logging
  • Expansion of agriculture into valleys and onto hillsides, replacing riparian corridors on many streams and areas of the river;
  • Urbanization and widespread rural residential development and road-building throughout the watershed, resulting in the erosion of fine sediment and destruction of habitat;


Some of these land uses, particularly farming, ranching, and logging, have altered their practices to reduce effects on steelhead habitats and water quality.


Vineyards are now developed and managed to reduce soil erosion as seen here where a sediment basin sits down slope of a vineyard.
Despite all of the land use changes in eh Russian River watershed it continues to support steelhead trout, Coho salmon and Chinook salmon.


Within the Russian River watershed there are a number of sub-watersheds, including:

Redwood Valley and its watershed
Potter Valley and its watershed
Ukiah Valley and its watershed
Hopland-Sanel Valley and its watershed
Alexander Valley and its watershed
Knights Valley and its watershed
Dry Creek Valley and its watershed
Healdsburg and Chalk Hill and its watershed
Santa Rosa/Cotati area including Bennett Valley and its watershed
Russian River Valley and its watershed
Lower Russian River Canyon and its watershed
Upper Dry Creek and its watershed
Sebastopol and its watershed

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