For over 100 years, the Russian River has been severely impacted by gravel mining, as well as urban and agricultural development. Russian Riverkeeper has been working diligently for more than 25 years to change this degradation of the river.
Today, one of Riverkeepers’ top priorities is the restoration of what’s called the Hanson Site. Located west of Windsor in the middle reach of the Russian River, it contains 357 acres and four abandoned gravel pits.
This section of the river has lost 80% of its flood plain over the past 100 years. Here, the riverbanks have eroded and the water level runs many feet below the bank. This steady erosion has eliminated the shallow channels and gravel banks that provide food and habitat for juvenile salmon.
Engineers are designing a plan to carefully reshape the terrain, filling the existing gravel pits and restoring lowered floodplains that will reconnect with the river. These floodplains will rehabilitate the ecological systems and habitat that are essential for the recovery of fish and wildlife. They will also stop riverbed degradation and reduce the population of predatory non-native fish populations.
Another vital benefit of this renewal is providing space for the river to expand and slow its pace during heavy rainstorms, which will help to avoid flooding in downstream communities such as Sebastopol and Guerneville.
At completion, the Hanson site will be the largest park on the Russian River, providing river access and recreational opportunities for everyone.
As you might guess, this is no small task. A total of 5 million cubic yards of terrain will be moved before site work is completed. This is the largest earth-moving project in Sonoma County’s history, with the exception of Warm Springs Dam, built to create Lake Sonoma. This pioneering rehabilitation project will serve as a model for future restoration efforts on the Russian River and on rivers throughout California and the world.
Russian Riverkeeper’s Leadership Role
As the site manager, Russian Riverkeeper is taking a leadership role in the reclaiming of the Hanson property. Thanks to your support, our staff is actively participating in the plan design and working with engineering consultants to manage the data from onsite groundwater monitoring devices. We also provide fine scale mapping of vegetation and biotic communities, and we are leading the effort to control the invasive plants that are well established on this site.
One of our principal tasks is helping to secure the government and foundation funding needed to bring the project though completion. Recently, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife allocated $700,000 to fund the project through the engineered design phase.
While the work that remains to be completed is substantial—taking several years to complete—we believe the results will be transformative.