Gualala River Watershed
Marine Sanctuary Expansion
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will hold public hearings on the proposed expansion of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries.
Streamflow Depletion by Wells
Understanding and managing the effects of groundwater pumping on streamflow - by Paul M. Barlow and Stanley A. Leake. Report published by the U.S. Geological Survey, November, 2012.
Time-lapse videos of the mouth of the Gualala River A series of time-lapse videos of the Gualala River mouth in Northern California during the months of February, March & April, 2009, taken by Dane Behrens, a PhD student in Environmental Science at UC Davis.
Off-road vehicle impacts on wildlife
The Gualala River is a coastal treasure. Creatures big and small make it their home. Care must be taken to protect them and this beautiful wild river that is a part of our lives.
Wave energy project off the Gualala coast?
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has canceled permits issued to the Sonoma County Water Agency for investigation of wave energy projects off the Sonoma Coast, including one offshore of Gualala and the Sea Ranch.
Retaining wall above the estuary?
Destroying coastal bluff, native vegetation and the Gualala Bluff Trail for a project that hasn't even been reviewed makes no sense, and violates California law. Coastal Commission hearing on the proposed retaining wall project has been postponed.
"Psst... Groundwater and Surface Water Do Mix"
An article published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes a new and simple way of measuring groundwater's contribution to small streams on the surface.
- NYTimes, February, 2011
Your rights to access and enjoyment of CA streams and rivers
The beds and banks of California streamcourses below mean high water are subject to the California State Lands Commission's policies on public trust. Public trust uses include, among others, ports, marinas, docks and wharves, buoys, hunting, commercial and sport fishing, bathing, swimming, and boating.
No fireworks over the Gualala River estuary without a permit
The Gualala Festivals Committee canceled their controversial plans to detonate fireworks over the Gualala River estuary in 2008, after the Coastal Commission ordered them to cease and desist. In March, 2010, the Court of Appeals upheld the Commission's jurisdiction.
Gravel Mining in the Gualala River
Many criticisms and recommendations Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR) has issued in past public comments appear to be matched by NMFS findings and opinions. The NMFS biological opinion resulted in negotiations that modified the gravel mining permit application, and significantly improved environmental protection, monitoring and regulatory agency supervision, and mitigation.
Unauthorized diversion by North Gualala Water Co.
NGWC has pumped water from its wells near the Gualala River during low flow periods in violation of its permit for many years, which could reduce critical habitat for threatened coho and steelhead, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. Update: June, 2009: Settlement Agreement reached.
April showers bring May flows
The low flow winter drought conditions that prevailed on the Gualala River were erased by late April rainfalls that scoured the gravel beds and flooded bars and floodplains.
Gualala River Steelhead Studies
"Preserving any sizeable steelhead population in the river into future decades will require preserving and protecting summertime stream flows from reductions caused by a myriad of developmental activities, including grape vineyards." - Ten Years: Ten Revelations
Cattle in the River
Cattle impacts on the river are cumulative with low flows: small channel pools are disproportionately affected by cattle trampling and pollution. No state or county agencies appear to prevent or correct this conspicuous annual cattle march on the river.
Where has the water gone?
In the summer of 2008, the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River dried up to small, isolated, shallow pools below the Annapolis Road bridge while the river's pools remained normal and stable upstream.
Fluctuating water levels?
This summer (2007), water levels in the Gualala River adjacent to "vineyard alley" in Annapolis have been fluctuating up and down dramatically, killing young steelhead.
Appraising the value of park & open space land
California taxpayers may be getting fleeced by an unreliable system to appraise sales price for park and open space land.
Protecting Sonoma County's riparian corridors
Letter from the Sonoma County Water Coalition (of which FoGR is a member) on protection for riparian corridors in the Sonoma County General Plan Update.
Expand Gualala Point Park
The choices we make now and the actions we take will determine what type of river our grandchildren and their grandchildren will inherit.
Gualala River Park - Historical Proposals
In 1955, the Sonoma County Planning Commission proposed a major park along the Gualala River mainstem and South Fork. In 1999, the Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan included a proposal to construct and operate a loop trail paralleling the Gualala River.
Court upholds jurisdiction over Gualala Water Co. wells
Appeals Court rules that the State Water Resources Control Board has jurisdiction over the subterranean water flows under Elk Prairie, where the North Gualala Water Comapny's wells are located.
North Coast Watershed Assessment Program
Some areas of the North Coast have seen rapidly increasing agricultural activity, particularly conversion of grasslands or woodlands to vineyards. Such agricultural activities have typically been subject to little agency review or regulation and can pose significant risk of chronic sediment inputs to streams.
Diverting water from a Wild & Scenic River?
Mendocino County studies a plan to divert water from the Wild & Scenic Eel River. If they succeed, the Wild & Scenic Gualala River would also be threatened.
Wild & Scenic Rivers Protection Improvement Bill Signed
Gov. Schwarzenegger signs legislation to strengthen environmental protections for California's Wild & Scenic Rivers, including the Gualala.
Governor signs bill protecting the Gualala River
Gov. Davis signs bill designating the lower reach of the Gualala as a protected "recreational" river included in the California Wild & Scenic River system.
Half ton of pesticides used in Gualala River basin in 2001
The Critical Habitat Project of the Center for Ethics and Toxics (CETOS) issues a detailed report on pesticide use in the Gualala River watershed, including both forestry and vineyard usage.
photo credit: PT Nunn, 2003
|The Gualala River enters the Pacific Ocean approximately 110 miles north of San Francisco, California. Just past the mouth of the river lies the town of Gualala, a three-hour drive from San Francisco over narrow, twisting roads and stunning ocean and mountain views. Tourism and logging are the primary local industries.||
Gualala River watershed
[click to enlarge]
The Gualala River watershed covers 298 square miles, and spans the Sonoma / Mendocino County line. About three-quarters of the watershed is in Sonoma County, and constitutes 14% of that county. The other 25% of the watershed makes up 2% of the much larger Mendocino County.
2000 Census results show 6,971 residents in the area between Jenner and Manchester (a range of approximately 50 miles, with the Gualala River just past its halfway point).
Census information also shows that 40% of the houses are vacant (mostly vacation houses and rentals), suggesting a weekend population of approximately 11,618 full and part-time residents. These numbers do not include hotel / motel / B&Bs guests.
About the River
The water flow is extremely variable from summer to winter months. Local annual rainfall averages are approximately 36 inches along the coast and 72 inches inland. A large sandbar usually blocks the mouth of the river from late spring until the heavy rain runoffs of late fall.
The river's source lies in the high coastal range watershed, and its main forks rest directly on the San Andreas fault line. The river is approximately 32 miles long and works its way through 190,000 acres of rugged countryside.
The river is a breeding ground for the threatened coho salmon and steelhead trout as well as other local fish. Ospreys, great blue herons, egrets and river otters fish in the river and its estuary.
Although the river was once internationally known for fishing, 100 years of logging has so damaged the habitat that the coho are now nearly extinct. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes the Gualala River on its Clean Water Act 303(d) list for excessive sediment and high temperatures. The EPA has published a report on Gualala River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Sediment. Local volunteers and state and federal agencies are working to restore the river, but its health remains fragile.
There are currently three main threats to the river. Large scale logging operations contribute to sediment in the river and raise water temperature.
Growing pressure for vineyard conversions would likely result in increased pollution from pesticides, and would have the same damaging effects as clear-cut logging, but would also clear all vegetation and would not replant trees.
A recently defeated commercial plan to remove water from the river approximately one mile above the mouth would have further degraded the river, and could have been the last straw for this unique and beautiful river.
For those seeking further details on the watershed, the North Coast Watershed Assessment Program (NCWAP) has released a detailed report on the Gualala River watershed. NCWAP is a state funded effort working with local landowners, and defines its activities as gathering data "to improve watershed and fisheries conditions" on California's north coast. [See: excerpt on vineyard conversions.]
The Institute for Fisheries Resources has also published a database of detailed information on the Gualala River watershed (called KRIS-Gualala), which includes extensive text, tables, maps and photographs.
Information on water quality for municipal water systems which draw from the Gualala River underflow is available from the Environmental Working Group:
Information on the quantity of water flowing in the Gualala River is available from the United States Geological Survey:
Gualala River water flow data
The original occupants of the Gualala Watershed were the Kashia Pomo Indians. They referred to the area as qhawálaoli, "water coming down place" or "where the sky (also river) meets the sea." With the arrival of the first Russian settlers, timber harvesting became the area's first industry.
Virgin old growth redwood was removed as early as 1862. As timber demands grew after the 1906 earthquake, more and more old growth was harvested. Logging activities slowed somewhat in the 1960's, but still continue today.
Photo Tour | Forestry | Vineyards | Water Export | River Facts