Modern Grange, Watershed

A River Runs Through It

A watershed, as defined by geography scientist John Wesley Powell, is part equal parts land, water, and poetry. 

Writing for the (decidedly non-poetic) Environmental Protection Agency, Powell describes a watershed as being "that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."

Inextricably bound. Common course. Simple logic. Demanding community. The watershed.

The common course that inextricably binds Healdsburg to the sea, the Russian River watershed demands community, too. After all, it was community that overfished it, built over and alongside it, stripped its cooling trees, and drank down its deep pools. And it is community that is determined to save it.

Set alongside the Russian River tributary Foss Creek, we at Healdsburg SHED are attuned to riparian seasons, changes, and challenges. Our name was chosen to serve the very suffix: the foodshed, fibershed, and watershed — among others — of Sonoma County. And, given our historic drought conditions, estimated to be the worst California has endured in some three centuries, water weighs heavily on all of our minds this year.

The Russian River watershed encompasses 1,500 square miles of Sonoma and Mendocino counties, travels 110 miles from its inland source to its Pacific Ocean exit, and is complemented by 150 creeks and streams. Yet, a 2012 study commissioned by the Russian River Watershed Association found that just over one-third of Sonoma County residents surveyed knew whether or not they lived on this watershed (hint: only Petaluma and Sonoma Valley residents do not). 

But we are fortunate to have a rare position intact — that of the riverkeeper. Not many places have someone whose sole job it is to protect its watershed and educate the public. Ours is Don McEnhill, a star advocate and main spokesperson for the Russian Riverkeeper, and we're grateful to him for his passion and his service.

Over the coming weeks, we'll host Don often in our Grange as we screen the documentary film Watershed (Aug. 20; filmmaker Mark Darcena joins us); discuss — and sample! — fish-to-tail eating with author Maria Finn (Aug. 17); and explore — and yes, eat — the aquaculture of our bays with oyster expert Luc Chamberland (Aug. 14). 

To both broaden and personalize the story of the Russian River watershed, we're looking to share the stories of those who grew up along Foss Creek. If you did, we wonder what memories you might have of the creek from your childhood: how it looked and smelled to you then, how you and your family used it, where you played, if you fished, and any other remembrances you might want to share.

Please write to us with your Foss Creek tales. We're planning to create a storyboard of sorts to help the public — both those who live locally and those who visit from other areas — feel more connected to our watershed. Because, inextricably bound to it as we are, the Russian River watershed demands our community.

  1. Marjorie Schulz

    Hi Guys,
    Just poking around after hearing about you on West Coast Live. Couldn’t let the mistake about John Wesley Powell go unanswered. He was a Geologist and 2nd Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, he in died 1902 way before the creation of the EPA in 1970.
    He did propose that the boarders of Western States follow watershed boundaries. If the politicians had followed this scientific suggestion the west would have had a very different historical trajectory.
    Nice to see the great work you are doing. Good Luck to you.

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