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Jenner Jottings -Tim McKusick - January 2016


Jenner Jottings -Tim McKusick - January 2016

Jenner made the spotlight on the 11 O’clock News recently with localized flooding caused by the mix of a stormy ocean in a “king tide event” washing over the closed river mouth sandbar and backing the river up into the low lying areas of town. The recently reroofed visitor center, standing on piers at river’s edge was flooded and the Post Office and Café Aquatica parking lots a “duck’s playground”.

Just upstream, the Estuary’s influence on the “perched” streams was readily apparent as the river back up hundreds of feet into Sheephouse Creek, a welcome respite from the ongoing dry drought conditions. 

Yet, with all of the excitement over Jenner’s flooding, a few miles upstream the gravel/sand bars stood out in stark contrast along the narrow river channel. The accumulated rainfall to date had hardly produced any measurable stream flow in the watersheds and main stem of the river. The season’s rains so far were still soaking in.

Fortunately, as I am writing this we have been blessed with a series of late-Fall storms and several periods of sustained rainfall that brought our coastal streams to life. It was reassuring to finally see the brown plume of Russian Gulch sending its scent out into the grey winter ocean. 

My favorite kind of storms; lots of moisture without a lot of wind! With all of the El Nino hype, and personal memories of severe wind storms accompanying the last El Nino, these gentle soaking storms are welcomed, indeed. More rain is forecast in the coming weeks. The increase in River flow coupled with the Christmas Full Moon King Tide series should have Jenner residents on watch once again. 

Perhaps the best part of these early winter storms is the clouds. There is nothing like catching an ocean sunset as the storm clouds are parting. It is humbling and renewing at once. I prescribe it to my Sonoma County neighbors as the perfect way to start the New Year. 

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chris Brokate of Clean River Alliance (, 707-322-8304) who, along with the Garbage Patch Kids (his hardy crew of volunteers) has been working through inclement weather to clean up trash-covered riverside homeless encampments. With increased rainfall predicted and the Russian River on the rise, their hard work has kept a monumental amount of garbage from being washed downstream. Chris can always use a helping hand, even if it is just to haul the massive piles of trash bags that they have filled to the dump. 

River pollution comes from many sources: homeless encampments, failing septic systems, vineyards, dairies, farms, cattle, logging operations, urban runoff, and a myriad of other manmade causes.

Historically, our Russian River area was developed mostly as summer homes which were only used a few months out of the year. Cesspools and Redwood “seep boxes” were the standard for sewage disposal. Houses were built in great numbers with little thought of the long range environmental impact. With these homes now occupied full time, we are seeing the cumulative effect.

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board-SWB) is drafting a new policy to meet the legal mandate that requires the SWB develop statewide regulations or standards for septic systems. Systems within 600’ of an ‘impaired waterway’ are garnering the most scrutiny by State officials under the latest mandate.

Each state is required by federal law to routinely assess the quality of its surface waters to determine if they support the beneficial uses designated for the waters. Common beneficial uses for surface water include drinking water, support of aquatic life, and recreational contact-sports such as swimming. Owners of septic systems that are located adjacent to a surface waterbody that exceeds water quality standards for bacteria or nitrogen compounds, such as nitrates, may have to retrofit the septic system with supplemental treatment. 

In Jenner, where they have to live with the end result of upstream polluting, city leaders are inviting the County Well & Septic officials to attend a “septic symposium” at their Jenner Community Center. With the State finally in a position to put some “teeth” in their regulations, they are imploring our County to do their part. 

As Jenner Community Club board member Ken Sund ( states, “In Jenner there are septics in the river at high water. Is that safe for boaters and wildlife?” 

Warmest Holiday Regards to my friends and neighbors. These small steps we are taking on the ‘long hike’ to healing our environment are steps in the right direction. We have momentum!