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Sonoma County Gazette
Jenner Jottings

Algae Blooms in Russian River

Aug 2, 2018
by Tim McKusick


Algae Blooms Algae bloom in the lower reaches of the Russian River has been showing itself in alarming abundance this summer. Areas where in the past algae would typically line the shoreline gravel beaches, have seen the bloom cover the entire river surface from shore to shore. The areas above Bridgehaven up to Sheephouse Creek were especially bad.

You know it is bad when a ‘stolen kayak report’ for a pair of kayaks taken from the Café Aquatica area in Jenner described the kayaks and added that they could be identified by a ‘tell-tale green algae stain’ at the waterline from being moored in the Estuary.

I know that the County has been encouraging septic upgrades along the river. But, some of the areas of the older vintage River Summer Homes that are all clustered together (and were never intended for full-time habitation when they were built a century ago), are having trouble complying. The conditions are simply not conducive to the systems that the County currently approves.

There are sewage processing systems being used in other countries that have been proven to effectively treat the septic effluent to drinking water quality. Perhaps we should try using these in a couple of pilot programs in our river neighborhoods. They would be like mini-neighborhood treatment plants. We need to do something now. We are running out of options and time.

Now that we have addressed the man-made sources of river water quality degradation, we should do what we can to curb other sources of the nutrients that feed the algae. Maybe it is time to ask the cows that are cooling their hooves in the estuary as they munch on the rich grasses, to move a little farther upstream, where they are not such a direct negative impact on the situation.

Algae blooms on the river, dead-zones out herealong our Sonoma Coastline, it is clear that Nature is out of balance. Our job is to make sure that we are not the cause, or if we are, to do what we can to correct our past mistakes.

Every day more and more Tan Bark Oaks are dying. They turn completely brown, seemingly overnight! The Sudden Oak Death (SOD) syndrome has hit the coast in epidemic proportions. The dead trees stand out in stark contrast to the green healthy trees along our roads and in the coastal forests.

The young Tan Oaks that are crowded together in the understory of our Pines, Firs, and Redwoods are the perfect ‘ladder fuel’. They are about 30 feet tall and thick with branches and leaves from the ground to their tops. They are bad enough when they are alive, but as standing dead wood, they are scary.

The good news is that since these trees are pretty small in diameter, they are manageable using light equipment or even mowing machines. They can be dropped and chipped on site, thereby breaking the continuity between the grasses and the crowns of the larger trees; eliminating the ‘ladder of fuels’.

I wrote last month regarding the PG&E overhead linesthat cut through our coastal forest in the Timber Cove neighborhood, and the alarming number of dead trees lining the narrow slot that has been cleared directly below the power lines.

One thing is for sure, there needs to be a wider swath cleared below the overhead lines. In the past month, the understory of tanoaks has gotten much worse. Looking up the power lines from Highway One, you see a wall of dead trees. There is no other way to describe it. A wall of brown, dead oak trees with millions of dead leaves, each one ready to explode like a firecracker.

Towering over them are tall Pine trees, in various states of decline in health; shocked by years of drought. All it would take would be for a pine tree to shed a top, snapping the power line, and have the live wire swing down through the dead forest below. A sobering thought.


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