The Russian River: Everybody wants some, but…  

The Russian River, as we know it today, arises in the pine-studded hills surrounding Potter Valley, with an overwhelming infusion of Eel River water helping it on its way as it tumbles down into the Lake Mendocino reservoir. The river’s western fork trickles out of the fir-laden hills north of Redwood Valley, in the vicinity of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery: an outpost of the Ukranian Greek-Catholic Church.
The two forks come together at the precise location of the Mendocino Forests Products (aka Mendocino Redwood Company) mill in northern Ukiah, which draws on an annual water right of about 90 acre-feet in the course of annually producing more than 45 million board feet of lumber. As it leaves Mendocino County, the river cuts through a spectacular serpentine canyon best known as the location of Frog Woman Rock and drops into the Alexander Valley, where it is fed by water that drops from the world’s second largest geothermal power plant, and from Mount St. Helena: the highest point in the Mayacamas mountain range.
Perhaps the real clincher occurs about 10 miles upstream of Guerneville, where five Sonoma County Water Agency radial wells — collectors that extract water from an aquifer with direct connection to a surface water source, in this case the Russian River — receive water filtered through 60 to 90 feet of naturally deposited sand and gravel. The Water Agency then pumps the water into a lengthy aqueduct system, which supplies ever growing Sonoma County to the south, including two cities that are in altogether different drainage basins: Petaluma and Sonoma.
The water doesn’t stop there. Some of these liquid resources reach northern Marin County — particularly Novato, which receives 75% of its water from the Russian – and some ends up all the way in southern Marin County. Among those that receive the Sonoma County Water Agency’s deliveries are the working-class Bay Area suburb of Marin City, teenage home of legendary hip-hop martyr Tupac Shakur, and Sausalito, the upper-crust town on the North Bay’s fringes that practically bumps right up against the Golden Gate Bridge.
From the perspective of many contemporary Mendocino County leaders, the original sin that created this far-flung arrangement, and put Sonoma County in the position to profit from all these water sales, was the late-1950s deal that financed Coyote Valley Dam and Lake Mendocino. In the mid-20th century, Sonoma County was determined to acquire rights to the upper Russian River’s water, and also to provide flood protection on behalf of the bustling river-centric recreation and hospitality industries on the lower river reaches in Guerneville and Monte Rio.
Read more at: The Russian River: Everybody Wants Some, But… | Anderson Valley Advertiser