Current Events

How development pressure and environmental law may force radical change along the seemingly idyllic but deeply troubled Russian River

Joan Vilms and I get back into the kayaks and continue down the river.

An osprey dances on the breeze overhead, then disappears into a twiggy nest atop an old dead pine.

I lose myself in the rhythm of my paddle, the sensation of a fresh breeze that's now coming off the water. I look several summers into the future and imagine the sand of a dry Russian River riverbed. I cast my mind toward the rubber dam, and imagine an empty riverbank berm. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and a tiny microbe, my fantasy imagines, the dam is gone. I imagine hydroelectric dams demolished all over the California Sierra Nevada, the Cascades, and the Siskiyous, because saving species requires this. I imagine housing tracts turning into apartment buildings, automobiles becoming trolley cars, and suburban Sonoma County strip malls transforming into urban corner stores. I imagine Joan Vilms getting rid of her minivan and kayaks, because there's simply not enough space for people to live a frontier lifestyle if wilderness is to survive.

The Sonoma County Water Agency's rubber dam is inflated every year so pumps can move water to Santa Rosa and beyond.
Paul Trapani
The Sonoma County Water Agency's rubber dam is inflated every year so pumps can move water to Santa Rosa and beyond.

Suddenly I'm snapped from my fantasy by an unseen swift current and pulled toward a clump of low-hanging trees along the river's edge. I duck, but become tangled among the branches just the same. To my clumsiness, Joan Vilms offers this hollered advice, which the rest of California might also heed: "Watch out!"

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