Printed in the Russian River Monthly
By Jacquelynn Kathleen, 9/1/2002
“A watershed is the most ecologically accurate definition of community,” said Brock Dolman, permaculture program director for the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental and a member of the Dutch Bill Creek Watershed Group.
He was explaining the importance of the restoration work that Camp Meeker residents and others are performing on Dutch Bill creek, the Russian River tributary that drains the Camp Meeker watershed.
Dolman illustrated a watershed by cupping his hands, leaving them open at the top. The top edge of his thumbs and pointer fingers equated the ridge of a watershed and where the little fingers meet at the bottom was the river. Each drop of water that falls anywhere in the watershed from top to bottom ends up in the river, taking with it any pollutant, debris, or sediment.
Dolman asserted that “every human endeavor in a watershed is up for debate in order to bring back the fish.”
The federal Clean Water Act agrees with his line of thinking. It requires that states assess, define, and recommend restoration of waterways with non-point source pollution (NPS).
Point sources of pollution are easy to determine. They include factories, logging vineyards, agriculture, grazing, compacted dirt roads, paved parking lots, failing septic systems, etc. NPS is much more difficult.
When land isn’t allowed to soak up rainwater like a sponge because the land has been replaced by impermeable surfaces, run-off rushes to the creeks and rivers carrying with it the detrimental environmental factors of disaster.
As Dolman stated, our “development patterns exacerbate run-off, worsen flooding and decrease water quality and quantity.”
The coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout, once in abundance in northern California rivers, are now threatened species. The salmon, as Dolman wrote in his article, Basins of Relation, in the Summer 2002 issue of The Permaculture Activist, are the “canaries in the watershed coal mine.” As goes the water, so do we. We cannot live with water.
Restoration involves both uplands and in-stream work. This controversial issue requires collaboration with government and landowners.
For years water management experts cleared the rivers and creeks of root wad, logs, other woody debris, and removed overhanging trees in order to “clean up” the water and deter flooding. This created a two-fold problem, depleting the water of pools for fish to spawn and hide from predators, and raising its temperature by exposing it to the sun’s rays. Water temperature must be below 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the fish to survive.
In-stream restoration includes replanting vegetation to shade the creek and inserting natural elements that allow streams to create pools. Upland restoration involves impeding the direct flow of water from harmful sources. Rural roads, the primary source of sediment, can be redesigned to disconnect them from direct delivery to the creek.