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October 16, 2021
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Shedding light on our watershed

  • Executive Director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation Anne Morkill stands next to one of the educational watershed boards located outside of the foundation's headquarters. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Patrick Norton
January 1, 2021

There is a good chance that if you are reading this you live in or spend quite a bit of time in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed. The Laguna de Santa Rosa Watershed spans 250 square miles. The Laguna itself functions in much the same way as a human liver. Instead of cleansing and detoxifying blood, however, the Laguna cleanses and detoxifies the fresh water from creeks and streams in our watershed. Over the past one hundred and eighty years, agricultural use as well as urban interface have been increasing the workload of the Laguna. Loss of habitat, oak woodlands and vernal pools have all created issues. High intensity agriculture and urban development have brought an increase in siltation and pollutants to creeks modified to serve our civil ambitions. Water movement used to dissipate over the Santa Rosa flood plain. Now, storm drains and creeks lined with concrete funnel water and the associated sediment and pollutant load directly into the Laguna, inundating and silting it in. This reduces the Laguna’s capacity to filter and store water. In turn wreaking havoc on the lower Russian River in high water years. Recognizing the human created impacts, in 1989 private and public stakeholders met for a State of the Laguna Conference and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation was born.  

According to the foundation’s website the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is “a 501(c) 3 non-profit with the mission to restore and conserve the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and to inspire public appreciation of this Wetland of International Importance.” The foundation is working to restore the Laguna de Santa Rosa on a watershed scale. Restoration is a key component to the Foundation’s mission with projects taking place concurrently all over the county. Projects that seek to restore critical wetlands, help endangered species recover, address climate change, preserve remaining vernal pools, manage invasive species, establish wildlife corridors, bring back native biodiversity and restore the waters of the Laguna to a clean swimmable and fishable condition. 

One project of significant importance is the restoration project on Copeland Creek. Copeland Creek runs between Rohnert Park and Cotati. When asked about the Copeland Creek restoration project Executive Director Anne Morkill stated, “We are very interested in restoring the ecosystems functions of Copeland Creek.” With its headwaters high up near Sonoma Mountain, Copeland Creek is the most South Eastern creek in the watershed. Like many of the Creeks in the watershed parts of the creek are completely confined by concrete. It can no longer meander and disperse its sediment load during rain events. Funded solely by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, currently the foundation is working to open up areas of the creek where that is still possible. Removing invasive species and planting native shade providing trees that add structure and habitat for steelhead and Coho salmon. Two species of concern for the 

Foundation and its allies. Thus far results have been favorable with wildlife cameras on the creek capturing an uptick in native species since the projects inception. 

Vernal pools are another high priority for the Foundation. Vernal Pools are seasonal wetlands once abundant on the Santa Rosa Plains. They are home to many rare and endemic species. “Today less than 10 percent of vernal pool habitat remains across the state and native vernal pool species are in serious decline. The Santa Rosa Plain (SRP) has lost 85 percent of its vernal pools within the last 50 years,” lagunafoundation.org. Sixty percent of the remaining vernal pools in the SRP are on private land. Therefore, the foundation primarily works with private landowners on restoration projects. Projects focus mainly on the active management of grasses. Teams of volunteers rake out thatches of invasive annual grasses. Thankless but rewarding work as native species return to the sites in numbers not seen in years. There is also collaboration with landowners to rotate grazing and shift land use practices to those that are compatible with the vernal pools. The vernal pool projects are something that the foundation is particularly proud of. “We enjoy connecting people to the land. With these projects we see people becoming stewards of the Laguna in their own backyards,” reflects Morkill. 

Connecting people to the land is where it all comes together for the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation. Projects like the one on Copeland Creek and others take place in and around urban areas. “Paths and creek walks make the projects that much more visible and that much more enjoyable. In the face of global issues like extreme weather and biodiversity loss, we see people can make a difference by supporting an organization like the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation. It’s important not only for the environment, but people’s quality of life,” says Morkill, laying out the two-fold benefit of Laguna restoration.  When we start to understand our own watershed we begin to understand how it’s all connected and how we can make a difference. The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation offers a wide variety of ways to get involved with your watershed. For more information on educational programs, events, volunteer opportunities and to connect with the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation please visit the website at lagunafoundation.org or call (707) 527-9277.