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Russian River TMDLs

Russian River Watershed

The Russian River drains a 1,485 square mile watershed in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, California. Major tributaries to the Russian River include Forsythe Creek, Big Sulphur Creek, Dry Creek, Laguna de Santa Rosa, and Austin Creek. There are two major dams in the watershed, creating Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma.

To receive notices and information on the Russian River via e-mail, please go here to subscribe to the listserve and click on “Russian River TMDL.”


Water bodies in the Russian River watershed are listed under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) (per the 2008-2010 List) due to impairments to water quality by several pollutants.

The entire Russian River watershed is impaired for sediment and temperature. Impairments for pathogenic indicator bacteria apply to two segments of the Russian River, an un-named tributary on Fitch Mountain, Santa Rosa Creek, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and Green Valley Creek. Green Valley Creek is also listed as impaired for dissolved oxygen. Big Sulphur Creek is impaired for specific conductivity. Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino are impaired for mercury in fish tissue. The Laguna de Santa Rosa is also impaired for nitrogen, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, and mercury in addition to the watershed-wide sediment and temperature impairments (please see the Laguna TMDL webpage for additional information).

Several projects are underway to clean up 303(d) listed waterbodies via the establishment of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).

Pathogen / Indicator Bacteria TMDL


Sections of the Russian River watershed are listed on the Clean Water Act 303(d) list of impaired water bodies due to high fecal indicator bacteria levels (e.g., total coliform, fecal coliform, E. coli and enterococcus). High fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) levels may indicate the presence of pathogenic organisms that are found in warm-blooded animal waste. Pathogens pose potential health risks to people who recreate in contaminated waters.

Impairments for pathogenic indicator bacteria apply to the mainstem Russian River from Fife Creek in Guerneville to Dutch Bill Creek in Monte Rio, the mainstem Russian River near Healdsburg Memorial Beach, an un-named tributary on Fitch Mountain, Santa Rosa Creek, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and Green Valley Creek. The Russian River Pathogen TMDL was initiated to address the current impairment of recreational beneficial uses of the Russian River and its tributaries. A map of the project area identifying the impaired reaches is shown on the right.

In addition to these reaches, the Regional Water Board suspects FIB contamination in the Russian River from above Alexander Valley to the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner.


Regional Water Board staff has been collecting water quality data in support of this TMDL since winter 2011 and anticipates completing all monitoring objectives by the end of the summer of 2013. It is anticipated that a CEQA scoping meeting will be held in spring 2014 at the Regional Water Board office in Santa Rosa. The draft TMDL is expected to be complete and available for public review in the winter of 2015.


A Monitoring Plan has been developed and organized into four individual tasks and
sampling plans to answer the following questions:

  • Are Basin Plan water quality objectives for bacteria being met?
  • What is the variability of FIB?
  • What are the most significant sources of FIB?
  • What are natural background levels of FIB?
  • Do high-use recreational beach areas pose a higher risk to public health?
  • Does septic system density affect detected levels of FIB in surface waters?

Additionally, popular swimming beaches along the mainstem Russian River are monitored
for FIB every summer by Regional Water Board staff in collaboration with the
Sonoma County Department of Health Services. When fecal indicator bacteria levels exceed
recommended levels, warning signs are posted at the beach. Beach monitoring results are posted here:



Quality Assurance Project Plans


Board Updates and Presentations


Sediment TMDL

As part of our efforts to control sediment waste discharges and restore sediment impaired water bodies like the Russian River, the Regional Water Board adopted the Total Maximum Daily Load Implementation Policy Statement for Sediment Impaired Receiving Waters in the North Coast Region, which is also known as the Sediment TMDL Implementation Policy, on November 29, 2004.  The Sediment TMDL Implementation Policy states that Regional Water Board staff shall control sediment pollution by using existing permitting and enforcement tools. 
Specific sediment control measures that Regional Water Board staff are taking or plan to take in the Russian River watershed are described in the
Regional Water Board Staff Work Plan to Control Excess Sediment in Sediment-Impaired Watersheds.

Temperature TMDL

Regional Water Board staff are proposing to address the Russian River temperature impairment in part through the development of a region-wide temperature TMDL implementation policy.

Mercury TMDLs

Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma in the Russian River have been listed under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act for mercury pollution measured in fish tissue.  Mercury, also called quicksilver, is a heavy metal and potent neurotoxin that is harmful to humans and wildlife. Mercury builds up in the bodies of fish and also in people who eat contaminated fish. Possible mercury sources include mercury and gold mines, soil erosion due to human activities such as logging and road construction, and airborne sources from North America and Asia. 

A statewide effort to develop mercury TMDLs for at least 75 lakes and reservoirs is under development. Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino are part of the statewide effort.

Laguna de Santa Rosa, the largest tributary to the Russian River, has also been placed on the Section 303(d) for mercury pollution measured in fish tissue. The development of the Laguna de Santa Rosa TMDL for mercury contamination is not yet scheduled.

Specific Conductivity TMDL

The development of the Big Sulphur Creek TMDL for specific conductivity is not yet scheduled.

Contact Information:

Charles Reed, Project Manager

Rebecca Fitzgerald, TMDL Unit Supervisor

Updated November 18, 2014