Learn more about the Russian River water supply system at the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Behind-the-Scenes Tours of the Russian River Water Supply

Suzie Rodriguez

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Behind-the-Scenes Tours of the Russian River Water Supply

Late last fall I signed up for one of the tours given each year by the Sonoma County Water Agency, for a behind-the-scenes look at the Russian River water supply system.

I figured the event would be informative, and it was — but it was also fun, brought me to a few beautiful locations on the Russian River, and gave me a glimpse of how complex, clean and technologically forward our county's water system is.

Russian River Cartoon Poster, Sonoma County

To quickly see for yourself, download a copy of the Agency's colorful Russian River Cartoon Poster. You'll see the river flowing along from the northeast, turning west, and eventually reaching its Pacific Ocean outlet at Jenner. Water agency facilities are shown, along with towns, lakes, some regional parks, dams, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and other tributaries. It's a stylish work of art, and an easy way to 'get' what's involved in having that water flow so easily out of your tap.

Our half-day tour began at the Westside Water Education Center. Built in 2015 and located near Forestville's Wohler Bridge, the center contains interactive exhibits, a science laboratory, a drought-tolerant garden, explanatory panels, and other interesting displays. The center is a learning facility for approximately 3,500 young students each year; they can enroll in field study programs, help with bio-assessments, and pursue their individual interest in the natural world.

Sonoma County Water Agency Tour

We then hopped into a van that took us to a few different facilities on the river that divert, pump, and treat the water delivered to more than 600,000 residents in portions of both Sonoma and Marin counties. One of the collectors — a well that pumps water from the alluvial aquifer adjacent to the river — was the largest riverbank collector in the world when it was completed in 2006. It extends 100 feet below the surface of the earth and its lateral pipes extend 120-375 feet.

My favorite stop: the Russian River Fish Ladder and Viewing Gallery. When the fish are migrating, windows into the ladder allow you to see them swim by.

Sonoma County Water Agency Tour

Interested in a tour? On selected dates during spring, summer, and fall, the Sonoma County Water Agency offers free public tours covering different aspects of our water supply system:

Flood Protection Facility Tour. Usually given in March, this half-day tour visits flood control facilities such as those located at Spring Lake and Matanzas Creek Reservoir. You'll learn about the operations involved and the benefits of flood control, as well as the history of flood control in the county.

Wastewater Treatment & Recycled Water Production Facilities Tour. Ever wonder where your water goes after it goes down the drain? Take this tour and you'll find out, as well as learn how wastewater is treated, and how water is recycled/reused as a new resource after treatment. In 2018, tours are scheduled for April 28 and May 5; a Spanish-language tour is scheduled for April 7.  

Russian River Water Supply System Tour:  Visit facilities that divert, pump, and treat the water flowing to residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. These facilities include the inflatable dam, the newly constructed fish ladder, infiltration ponds, and one of the largest water collector of its type in the world. The tours for 2018 have not yet been scheduled.

Sonoma County Water Agency facilities are only open to the public during these infrequently scheduled tours. Registration is required, and space is limited, so sign up in advance. You can receive notification of upcoming tours by subscribing to the Water Agency's ENews, or by visiting www.scwa.ca.gov/tours/.