April Editorial: Landowner’s Ability to Manage Waterways

Written By: Jeff Carlton, President
Published: April 3, 2019

Can we catch a break here in Sonoma County? If it’s not fires, then it’s floods. At the end of February, we witnessed the Russian River cresting at 46.1 feet and then experienced one of the worst floods since 1986 when the river crested at 49.5 feet. I saw roads and portions of the county underwater that I have never seen before. Could any of this have been prevented? We will probably never know.

State government policies prevent many of us from managing our waterways properly. You’re not allowed to remove or cut tree debris from rivers or creeks that run through your property. Decades of build up prevents water from receding very fast, which in turn exacerbates flooding. In the past, we dredged the Russian River and cleaned out the creeks. Now, the waterways are allowed to meander from their channel causing erosion and property damage. One needs to only look to Green Valley Creek and the Atascadero Creek to see how current practices are affecting fish and water flow. The Atascadero is so overgrown and clogged with debris, that I cannot see how fish at any stage could navigate through it. A small fix was made to Green Valley last year, but more work still needs to be done. Allowing this to continue can potentially wash out the road and drastically impact emergency services during these large winter storms.

Something else I observed during these storms was the tremendous amount of garbage in the waterways, not along the Russian River, but among the many tributaries that feed it. Many times our farmers and ranchers are accused of polluting creeks and streams, but I rarely hear mention of all the garbage. Before the flood and after the first large storm in February, we cleaned up garbage along the creek at one particular property. We filled a 20- yard dumpster with all of the miscellaneous junk you can imagine, including several oil containers that most likely drained out into the creek. I do not believe that the residents in Guerneville and surrounding communities want to deal with all this junk being carried into their town along with all of the flood water.

Landowners must be able to live with and along streams and have the ability to manage them like they do with the rest of their property. Should it be a “free for all”? No, but the laws created by unelected bureaucrats cannot constrain them to the point where they can hardly manage any portion of the stream at all. Who knows when the next flood will strike. I was sad to see some of my favorite businesses damaged by the flooding and hope that everyone is back on their feet soon. Kudos to the many people who have rallied around them.

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