The importance of water: Pepperwood Preserve, Laguna de Santa Rosa, and the Russian River watersheds


Pepperwood and the Santa Rosa Junior College partner to offer a two-semester Bio 85 – Natural History of Pepperwood course that certifies participants as UC California Naturalists. Students have the option to submit an article for the Pepperwood Field Notes Blog as part of the course. The following is a student-submitted article.

The Importance of Water: Pepperwood Preserve, Laguna de Santa Rosa, and the Russian River Watersheds

By Gary Morgret, Pepperwood Steward and Fall 2016 Bio 85 participant

bio-85-2016-fall-gary-morgret-photo-1It might be stating the obvious, but water is essential for life.

Of all of the Earth’s water, the oceans contain 97%, leaving the remaining 3% as fresh water. Two thirds of that fresh water is locked in ice. The remaining one third of our fresh water is found in lakes (60%), as soil moisture (33%), and in the atmosphere (6%), leaving only (1%) in rivers. Some say that in the near future water will be more important than oil and will become a geopolitical flash point. It’s a topic of great importance to Californians, and over the past 30 years or so, we have begun to pay attention to watersheds and the mechanics of water.

The journey of water—the hydrologic cycle—begins out at sea.

In Sonoma County and our central coastal area, there is a high pressure ridge off the coast that sits there all summer, keeping us dry throughout the summer months. In the fall the high pressure system moves south and a low pressure system moves in, laden with moisture. That air rises and condenses and finally in the winter months, we get rain. The moisture laden air moves inland and when it hits the coast range the air is forced upwards, cooling and condensing and we get rain. More rain falls in the Mayacamas Mountains (average 50 inches), where Pepperwood is located, then down in the Santa Rosa plain (average 30 inches).

We all live in a watershed.

A watershed is the area of land that captures precipitation, and then stores, filters, seeps or drains this water into a common water body—in our case the creeks that feed the Russian River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner. The streams that drain the surface land area, along with the groundwater and aquifers located underground, contribute water to those streams. If the ground water aquifers are sufficiently charged during the winter rains, a creek may flow year-round. Both Pepperwood (3,200 acres) and the Laguna (162,000 acres) are in the Russian River Watershed (950,400 acres). Pepperwood’s creeks are mostly dry in the summer months, with the exception of some springs. The Russian River flows year-round.
Pepperwood contains numerous separate smaller creek watersheds: Mark West Springs Watershed, Porter Creek Watershed, Upper Franz Creek Watershed, Lower Franz Creek Watershed and Brooks Creek Watershed to name a few. The two creeks at Pepperwood that feed the Mark West Springs Watershed are Rodgers Creek and Skovie Creek. These two, along with Porter Creek, flow into Mark West Creek and eventually down in the Santa Rosa plain, into the Laguna de Santa Rosa. The remaining watersheds flow directly into the Russian River.

Healthy watersheds with plenty of intact open space and vegetated riparian areas can have several important functions.

They serve as a filter for pollutants, aid in flood retention, recharge the groundwater and create habitat for animals, reptiles, fish, birds, etc. In a report published by the Department of Fish and Game in 1972, due to cumulative effects of former water and sewage management techniques, the water in the Laguna was declared, “devoid of life.” The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, along with the City of Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Water Agency and landowners have been working successfully for 25 years to restore that portion of the watershed and now the Laguna is full of life. Key to the restoration has been replanting riparian habitat along the creeks. The Foundation installed plantings 50-100 feet in width along creeks in the Laguna. It has been shown that this buffer zone can cut sediment in surface runoff by as much as 90%, and nitrogen and phosphorous by 80%. Due to these enhanced buffer zones, five times as many bird species are present. Coho and steelhead salmon, otter, beaver, bald eagle, coyote, mountain lion and bobcat are all back in the Laguna.

Pepperwood contributes to the health of the watershed through a number of management practices and restoration efforts.

One example is a $200,000 road improvement project, funded by the City of Santa Rosa and coordinated by the Sonoma Resource Conservation District. Six and a half miles of roadway were improved—out sloping for cleaner flow, new culverts with a stone base and rolling dips—all to reduce nutrient flow into the Mark West Creek Watershed system. Clean water, its importance and management, are now more clearly understood and efforts throughout our watershed will ensure this resource for generations to come.


  1. Jane says:

    I especially appreciate describing the work that had been done to correct the watershed. All of us can make a difference as Gary so articulately illustrates. Thank you for your words

  2. Beth Fulton says:

    Well articulated, Gary. We may feel discouraged about the state of the world but we CAN do something to help preserve our local habitats. Thanks for your advocacy.

  3. Kristopher Carroll says:

    Wonderful read, very informational as well as interesting.

  4. simon lowings says:

    Nice job Gary. Your enthusiasm for pepperwood really shows.

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