Russian River Watershed Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLS)

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) | Watershed Overview | Impairments | Pathogen | Sediment | Temperature | Mercury | Laguna de Santa Rosa TMDLs

To receive notices and information on the Russian River via e-mail, please go to the subscribe button above and then select “Russian River TMDL.”


In January 2022, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (North Coast Water Board) staff initiated a process for the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) to consider approval of two amendments adopted by the North Coast Water Board for incorporation into the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region (Basin Plan). The North Coast Water Board staff has since decided to change these amendments to revise the onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) program of implementation. In order to proceed with changes, the North Coast Water Board has withdrawn from the current State Water Board approval process for amendments to the Basin Plan that would have established: 1) the Action Plan For The Russian River Watershed Pathogen Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and 2) the update to Section 4.1.11: Policy On The Control Of Water Quality With Respect To On-Site Waste Treatment And Disposal Practices Specific To The Russian River Watershed, Including The Laguna De Santa Rosa.

Project Revisions Summary Overview

Over the course of the last several years, the North Coast Water Board adopted two resolutions to amend the Basin Plan specific to the Russian River watershed:

  • Resolution No. R1-2019-0038, adopted August 14, 2019
    • Editorial amendment to update the Policy on the Control of Water Quality with Respect to On-Site Waste Treatment and Disposal Practices Specific to the Russian River Watershed, Including the Laguna de Santa Rosa (Editorial Amendment). 
  • Resolution No. R1-2021-0055, adopted December 2, 2021 
    • Action Plan for the Russian River Watershed Pathogen Total Maximum Daily Load and a Discharge Prohibition (Action Plan).

The Action Plan addresses Russian River watershed fecal indicator bacteria impairments and protections by establishing a total maximum daily load (TMDL), a fecal waste discharge prohibition, and programs of implementation for multiple pathogenic waste sources including; wastewater treatment facilities, sanitary sewer systems, recycled water, land application of biosolids, municipal stormwater runoff, dairies, ranches and hobby farms, homeless encampments, and onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS).
The North Coast Water Board staff plans to make changes to the OWTS program of implementation requiring revision of both amendments. In order to proceed with any changes, the North Coast Water Board has withdrawn the Russian River Watershed Action Plan and Editorial Amendment from the State Water Board approval process that was initiated in January 2022.

Staff have concluded that there are benefits to adjusting the OWTS implementation program including: 1) potential for greater reliance upon the Water Quality Control Policy for Siting, Design, Operation, and Maintenance of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (statewide OWTS Policy); and 2) options to focus upon OWTS across the watershed that are not authorized under the OWTS Policy, such as failing systems, cesspools, pit-privies, and outhouses.  This shift in approach would continue to provide a mechanism for OWTS compliance with the Action Plan’s fecal waste discharge prohibition, while focusing resources on the categories of OWTS with the highest risk of pathogen discharge across the watershed, rather than all OWTS within a smaller geographic area.  

Staff anticipate approximately one year will be needed to scope and make isolated adjustments to the Action Plan’s OWTS program of implementation, offer those changes for public review and comment, and allow the North Coast Water Board an opportunity to consider adoption of revised amendments to the Basin Plan that differ from those adopted in 2019 and 2021.  Once adopted by the North Coast Water Board, project documents would proceed to the State Water Board restarting the process initiated in January 2022.

Future Changes to the Item

Future opportunities for review and comment and public meetings related to this project will be provided via the project’s email subscription list. Any person desiring to receive future notices must subscribe to the e-mail distribution list at: North Coast Regional Water Board email subscription sign-up website ( and follow the steps listed below:

  1. Check the box for “Russian River - TMDL”,
  2. Fill in the required signup details, and
  3. Press the “Subscribe” button.

Contact Information for Russian River Pathogen TMDL

Please direct questions about these Basin Plan Amendments to Lisa Bernard, Senior Environmental Scientist, Planning Unit Supervisor at (707) 576-2677 or ; Charles Reed, Supervising Water Resource Engineer, Point Source and Groundwater Protection Division Chief at (707) 576-2752 or, or Nathan Jacobsen, Senior Staff Counsel at (916) 341-5181 or 

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).



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.


On March 13, 2014, the Regional Water Board adopted Resolution No. R1-2014-0006 amending Chapter 4 of the Basin Plan to incorporate a region-wide Temperature Implementation Policy which describes the approach to implementing the interstate water quality objective for temperature. The Policy identifies the regulatory mechanisms staff employ to ensure achievement of the water quality objective for temperature, it describes the significance of stream shade as a factor determining stream temperatures, and it directs staff to address temperature concerns through existing authorities and processes.


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.

The Statewide Mercury Control Program for Reservoirs | California State Water Quality Control Board.  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 6/12/24->)