Russian River Watershed Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLS)

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) | Watershed Overview | Impairments | Pathogen - Fecal Indicator Bacteria | Sediment | Temperature | Mercury | Russian River Pathogen TMDL | Laguna de Santa Rosa TMDLs

To receive notices and information on the Russian River via e-mail, please go to Listserve and click on “Russian River TMDL.”


Upcoming Public Workshop to be held on August 19, 2019 regarding revisions to the Russian River Pathogen Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Action Plan.

Notice of public comment period, workshop, and public hearing to consider adoption of revisions to the TMDL Action Plan for the Russian River Watershed Pathogen Total Maximum Daily Load as an amendment to the Water Quality Control Plan for The North Coast Region.


In August 2019, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) adopted Resolution R1-2019-0038, to amend the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region (Basin Plan) to include the Russian River Watershed Pathogen Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Action Plan (Action Plan). The Action Plan summarizes the findings of the TMDL analyses conducted across the Russian River Watershed to address pathogen pollution and listings of the Russian River on the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list of impaired waters (303(d) list). During the development of the North Coast Water Board’s Section 303(d) list in 2020, Regional Water Board staff reassessed fecal indicator bacteria and microbial source tracking data used in the TMDL and determined that some changes to the Action Plan adopted in 2019 were warranted. The proposed changes are primarily related to the Advanced Protection Management Program (APMP) boundary within which the Action Plan prioritizes investigation of cesspools and failing or substandard Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems. The APMP is a key component of the Action Plan as the APMP definition and associated implementation actions are necessary to comply with the State Water Board’s Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Policy. The reassessment of fecal indicator bacteria and microbial source tracking data led to changes in APMP boundaries.

Documents for review and Comment

The following documents are available to the public for 45 days of review and comment from August 5 through September 22, 2021.

Russian River Watershed Overview

The Russian River drains a 1,485 square mile watershed in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, California. The two major dams in the watershed, create Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. Major tributaries to the Russian River include Forsythe Creek, Big Sulphur Creek, Dry Creek, Austin Creek, and Laguna de Santa Rosa. The Laguna de Santa Rosa is the largest subwatershed draining to the Russian River and the largest urban center in the North Coast Region. Additional information specific to the Laguna de Santa Rosa can be found on the Laguna de Santa Rosa TMDLs webpage. This Russian River Watershed Map link opens to show the major towns, highways, and waterbodies within the Russian River Watershed boundaries.


Many waterbodies in the Russian River watershed are listed under Clean Water Act Section 303(d) due to water quality impairments caused by several different pollutants. Examples of those listed, include the entire Russian River watershed which is impaired for sediment and temperature as well as pathogen, mercury, phosphorus, and dissolved oxygen impairments identified in waterbodies throughout the watershed. The full list of identified impairments can be viewed on the Integrated Report - 303(d) Webpage. Work underway to clean up Russian River 303(d) listed waterbodies includes the development and establishment of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).

  • Russian River Pathogen TMDL

    Approved Basin Plan Amendments | Regional Water Board Adoption | Elements of the Adopted Action Plan | What Can Area Residents Do? | Project Documents and Useful Links

    Fecal indicator bacteria results from samples collected in the Russian River Watershed show exceedance of Statewide Bacteria Objectives for both E. coli in freshwater and enterococci in saline water during both wet and dry weather periods in multiple HUC-12s in the Russian River Watershed. Similarly, exceedance of National Criteria for Enterococci in freshwater, coupled with other evidence of pollution, established several additional HUC-12s as impaired. In addition, Regional Water Board staff conducted studies to investigate the relationship between land cover types and fecal indicator bacteria in the surface waters of the Russian River Watershed. Combined, these water quality studies indicate a widespread bacteria problem and other evidence of fecal waste discharge, which represent a potential threat to the health of the river ecosystem and the people who visit it. The Regional Water Board has developed the Russian River Pathogen TMDL to address the pathogen impairment and sources of fecal waste pollution in the Russian River Watershed.

  • Approved Basin Plan Amendments

    The Regional Water Board adopted the Action Plan for the Russian River Pathogen Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in August 2019. Until approved by the State Water Resources Control Board, Office of Administrative Law and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an amendment to the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region, the Action Plan will not take effect under state or federal law. The following presents adoption dates and associated documents for each approval stage in the amendment process:


    • Date TBD – Approved by the State Water Resources Control Board
    • Date TBD – Approved by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL)
    • Date TBD – Approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Elements of the Adopted Action Plan

    Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS)

    The Adopted TMDL Action Plan includes special provisions that apply to Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) within the Advanced Protection Management Program (APMP) boundary. A map outlining the APMP boundary can be found below. The map includes all parcels within the APMP boundary, whether they are developed, undeveloped, sewered, or unsewered. However, the special provisions only apply to OWTS within the APMP boundary. The APMP Boundary Parcel List is an Excel spreadsheet that is presented in portable document format (pdf). It is generated using tax assessor data for Mendocino County and Sonoma County and results in a list of Assessor Parcel Numbers (APN) and the associated addresses. You can search the pdf using the Adobe Acrobat search (or find—Ctrl F) tool. You will need either the APN for the property of interest or the site address. If you use the APN, please note that Mendocino County APNs are represented in the spreadsheet as 7 or 8 digits and include no dashes. Sonoma County APNs are represented as 9 digit numbers with 2 dashes. Site addresses do NOT include a period following abbreviations for road, street, boulevard, or avenue. Keep your search as simple as possible; for example, if searching for the street address 5550 Skylane Boulevard, Santa Rosa, try typing in “5550 Skylane”. Parcels found on the APMP Boundary Parcel List are within the APMP Boundary. Only those parcels with OWTS that are within the APMP Boundary will be subject to special provisions.

    The Interactive APMP Boundary Parcel Map can be used to identify if a specific parcel or property is within the APMP. There is a search bar at the top, right hand corner of the map where you can type your address. The map should zoom you to the identified address. Parcels within the APMP are shaded by a thin transparent layer and highlighted with a yellow boundary.
    APMP Boundary Parcel Map - Watershed Overview (August 2019)
    APMP Boundary Parcel Map - Individual Subwatersheds (August 2019)
    APMP Boundary Parcel List (August 2019)

    Full Screen view of APMP Russian River Map

    Implementation Agreement Between the Regional Water Board and Counties
    Implementation of a Pathogen TMDL in the Russian River Watershed will require close coordination and collaboration of the Regional Water Board with local agencies. To ensure such coordination and collaboration, staff of the Regional Water Board has entered into discussions with each of the counties within the Russian River Watershed, including Sonoma County and Mendocino County. The general purpose of these discussions has been to establish the roles and responsibilities of each of the parties with respect to TMDL implementation. As appropriate, the agreements have been codified in memorandums of understanding (MOU).

    • TMDL Implementation MOU with Sonoma County
    • TMDL Implementation Agreement with Mendocino County [Still in process]
  • What Can Area Residents Do?

    Popular swimming beaches along the mainstem Russian River are monitored for bacteria every summer. When fecal indicator bacteria levels exceed recommended levels, warning signs are posted at the beach. Beach monitoring results are posted by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services.

    • If you have a septic system, have it checked and cleaned. If it needs repair, fix it!
    • When enjoying the river, use a portable toilet or other restroom facilities
    • Make sure dirty diapers are put in a garbage can and not left on the ground
    • Pick up pet waste
    If you keep livestock, clean up their waste - and make sure contaminated runoff does not reach your local creek or the river

Sediment TMDL

As part of our efforts to control sediment waste discharges and restore sediment impaired water bodies like the Russian River, the Regional Water Board adopted the Total Maximum Daily Load Implementation Policy Statement for Sediment Impaired Receiving Waters in the North Coast Region, which is also known as the Sediment TMDL Implementation Policy, on November 29, 2004. The Sediment TMDL Implementation Policy states that Regional Water Board staff shall control sediment pollution by using existing permitting and enforcement tools.
Specific sediment control measures that Regional Water Board staff are taking or plan to take in the Russian River watershed are described in the
Regional Water Board Staff Work Plan to Control Excess Sediment in Sediment-Impaired Watersheds.

Temperature TMDL

Regional Water Board is proposing to address the Russian River temperature impairment in part through the development of a region-wide temperature TMDL implementation policy.

Mercury TMDLs

Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma in the Russian River have been listed under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act for mercury pollution measured in fish tissue. Mercury, also called quicksilver, is a heavy metal and potent neurotoxin that is harmful to humans and wildlife. Mercury builds up in the bodies of fish and also in people who eat contaminated fish. Possible mercury sources include mercury and gold mines, soil erosion due to human activities such as logging and road construction, and airborne sources from North America and Asia.

A statewide effort to develop mercury TMDLs for at least 75 lakes and reservoirs is under development. Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino are part of the statewide effort.

Laguna de Santa Rosa, the largest tributary to the Russian River, has also been placed on the Section 303(d) for mercury pollution measured in fish tissue. The development of the Laguna de Santa Rosa TMDL for mercury contamination is not yet scheduled.

  (Page last updated 8/13/21->)