Russian River First Flush
On the night of October 9, 2007, while most people rode out the first major storm of the season snuggly tucked in their beds, a
small but dedicated group of volunteers braved the torrential downpour to complete the 2007 Russian River First Flush
sampling event. Donning rain gear and sampling equipment, 31 participants sampled 11 urban creeks and adjacent
storm drain outfalls throughout the Russian River watershed. The sampled sites included Piner, Santa Rosa, Matanzas,
Colgan, Calder, Fife, Copeland, Hinebaugh, Pool, Foss Creeks and the Laguna-Cotati Channel and represented stormwater
runoff from the Cities of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and the towns of Windsor and
Urban runoff is widely acknowledged to be one of the largest sources of pollutants that impair water quality and aquatic
resources. Monitoring stormwater, particularly during the first major rain event of the season helps establish baselines for
pollutants, data trends, identify hotspots to follow up on and provides feedback on current and future pollutant control
and reduction efforts.
This was the fifth Russian River First Flush sampling event since the effort began in 2002 (no event took place in 2006
due to lack of funding). The First Flush sampling occurs during the first major storm of the season when the landscape is
"flushed" with water. Sampling is timed to coincide with the influx of storm water draining into our local creeks. This storm
water sheets over impervious surfaces (streets, parking lots, roofs, etc.) and carries with it months of accumulated trash,
oil, chemicals and other pollutants that are washed off city streets and flushed through storm drains, making its way directly
into the streams and the Russian River. Some pollutants are extremely toxic to aquatic wildlife, even for brief exposure
at very small concentrations. First Flush sampling can measure a stream's health under a worst-case scenario
where a cocktail of many pollutants and toxins are entering our creeks from all over the landscape -- the cumulative effects
of a landscape's worth of non-point source pollution.
It is important to note that as with all questions, you can only get answers to the things you ask, and in a monitoring context,
you can only get information about the pollutants you choose to measure. Since Russian River First Flush is a
largely un-funded event, we rely on donations from local laboratories for the water quality analysis. Due to generous donations
from Brelje and Race Laboratories, the City of Santa Rosa's Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant lab, Russian
Riverkeeper (for nutrients) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lab in Richmond, we were able to analyze
creek samples for nutrients, metals, bacteria and turbidity. Event participants also sampled for Temperature, pH and
Conductivity while on site. By no means, is this an exhaustive list of potential pollutants, but results from these constituents
can give us insight into the sources of the pollutants entering our waterways (metals from brake pads, bacteria from
pet waste, nutrients from fertilizers applied to lawns and gardens, etc.). By understanding the pollutants of concern, we
can propose Best Management Practices (BMPs) to best target the input of these pollutants. The community can adopt
these BMPs that can best target the input of these pollutants. The community to improve water quality and aquatic habitat
can adopt these BMPs.
The 2007 event, was coordinated by the Sotoyome Resource Conservation District and the Russian Riverkeeper, and
was partially funded by the Sonoma County Water Agency. The sampling event featured an improved sampling design
that measured selected pollutants in both storm and receiving waters.
Surface water from each creek was sampled In addition to sampling the surface water from each creek to characterize
the impact of storm water on the creek, storm flows entering creeks through large diameter culvert outlets, just upstream
of the creek sampling sites, were sampled to characterize the pollutant levels in the storm water that enters the creeks.
In addition, due to an EPA sponsored World Wide Monitoring Day event that occurred hours before the First Flush sampling,
baseline samples were collected from creeks that had surface flow prior to the rainfall.
Gathering first flush water quality data throughout a watershed, and building a multi-year data record, gives pertinent
information on how the sum of all our activities impacts our waterways to municipal officials, regulatory agencies and
citizens. It should also be useful to everyone who lives, works, drives, or hangs out in any of these areas, since we all
contribute pollutants to the landscape. The data collected can help us all understand some of the most pressing impacts
to our creeks and investigate ways we can modify our behavior to lessen these effects.
In addition to yielding important data, first flush sampling can actually be fun. In the words of Russian River First Flush
2007 volunteer Kate Symonds, "It may sound odd, but it was kind of fun spending a few hours in the pouring rain in the
middle of the night by the creek. It was a civic lesson of sorts to see to see what flows down our creeks during the first
big rain of the season. I highly recommend it."
The event is not currently funded for 2008. Partners continue to apply for and solicit funding sources for all aspects of the
event. Stay tuned for information about a 2007 results roll out event in Spring 2008. For more information contact Francesca Innocenti,
or Don McEnhill,