Watershed Overview

Watershed Overview

Dry Creek is a primary tributary to the middle Russian River, with headwaters in Mendocino County and the confluence below Healdsburg.  Dry Creek is a narrow valley about 16 miles long and only 2 miles wide and is home to two of California’s premier winegrowing appellations, Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile.  The Dry Creek watershed was permanently altered with the construction of Warm Springs dam and Lake Sonoma in 1983.  The lake serves as a flood control reservoir, the major water supply for irrigation and drinking water and as a recreational facility.  The dam causes sediment to be retained and has resulted in the Dry Creek channel becoming incised and entrenched relative to the tributaries. Major tributaries to Dry Creek include Mill Creek, Pena Creek, and West Slough.  The valley has one city, the City of Healdsburg which is the gateway to the more than 60 wineries in the valley.
Dry Creek climate is typical of north coastal California with dry warm to hot summers and mild winters with the majority of precipitation from January through April.


Land Use

While Dry Creek has a history of Native American population, European settlement began in the mid 1850’s coincident with gold discovery in California.  Agricultural was established immediately in the fertile soils of the valley with zinfandel grape production as early as 1864.  There has been other crop production such as hops and fruits, with increased conversion to vineyards beginning in the 1970’s.  Other land uses include timber , grazing, gravel mining and rural residential land ownership.  The upper watershed is home to an 8,000 acre wildlife management area managed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the Army Corp of Engineers which operates the dam.  Beyond these public lands the rest of Dry Creek is predominately privately owned.


The vegetation in Dry Creek varies depending upon elevation, soil type and precipitation.  The lowlands along the valley generally has grassland and riparian willow species along the creek and the uplands are characterized by hardwood evergreens, oak woodland mixed with coniferous forest.  Much of the original redwood forest was logged in the late 1800’s, with second and third growth replacement at present.


Fish and Wildlife

Several listed species are found within the Dry Creek watershed. Among the endangered species are the Coho salmon, Steelhead and the CA freshwater shrimp. Threatened species that have been documented in the watershed include the CA red-legged frog, the steelhead trout, and the northern spotted owl. Dry Creek tributaries have some of the premier coho and steelhead spawning and rearing habitats in the Russian River, and Grape and Mill Creeks are the focus of the Russian River Keystone Initiative described under programs.

Current and Past RCD Programs


  • The RCD has worked with many agricultural producers in Dry Creek watershed to enhance their farming operations and protect soil and water resources. Projects include the development of Farm Conservation Plans, enhancement of riparian areas, erosion control, vineyard irrigation evaluations, and hedgerow plantings.


Water Resources Management

  • As one of our district’s major winegrowing areas, and as an area where water conservation has been deemed a high priority, Dry Creek is one of the focal areas of our Vineyard Mobile Water lab. This service is currently available on a fee for service basis.
  • The RCD is one of 6 partners in the Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership (Partnership), a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Coho Keystone Initiative. The Partnership was formed in 2009 to develop a systematic approach to improve streamflow and water supply reliability in Mill and Grape Creek and three other sub-watersheds critical to coho recovery in the Russian River watershed. The Partnership’s goals are to further the recovery of coho salmon through habitat and streamflow enhancements and improve water security for property owners.
  • “Slow it, Spread It, Sink It, Store it!” practices are implemented with landowners throughout the watershed. These practices can help to protect and replenish groundwater resources, reduce erosion and pollution, prevent flooding and increase water conservation and stormwater management.
  • The RCD is also very involved in a statewide groundwater monitoring effort called the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) program. This program was created by SBx7 6 and established for the first time a statewide program to collect groundwater elevations, facilitate collaboration between local monitoring entities and the Department of Water Resources, and to report this information to the public. The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and the County Permit Resource Management Department have assumed responsibility for collecting these data in the basins throughout Sonoma County. The RCD was hired in 2011 by the Water Agency to conduct outreach to gain landowner participation in the CASGEM program and then to collect groundwater elevation data for these various wells covering the Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Lower Russian River basins. Groundwater data are collected on local landowner wells twice a year in the various basins and reported back to the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Department of Water Resources.

On-the-Ground Projects


Links to Other Important Partner Programs in the Watershed:

Sonoma County Water Agency Activities in Dry Creek
USGS Flow Gauge (Dry Creek Near Geyserville) 
USGS Flow Gauge (Dry Creek Below Lambert Bridge) 
USGS Flow Gauge (Dry Creek Near Mouth Near Healdsburg)
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley
University of California Cooperative Extension Coho Salmon Monitoring and Broodstock Program


Links to other important organizations in the watershed:

Coho Partnership Program: www.cohopartnership.org/index.html
Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley: http://wdcv.com/
University of California Cooperative Extension Coho Salmon monitoring and Broodstock program: http://ca-sgep.ucsd.edu/focus-areas/healthy-coastal-marine-ecosystems/russian-river-coho-salmon-monitoring.
Dry Creek Valley Association: /www.drycreekvalleyassociation.org 
Russian River Property Owners Association: www.russianriverpoa.org
Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration: www.cemar.org 
City of Healdsburg: www.ci.healdsburg.ca.us/ 
Western United Dairymen www.westernuniteddairymen.com/
Open Space Water Resource Protection Land Use (O.W.L. Foundation): http://owlfoundation.net
Russian Riverkeeper: www.russianriverkeeper.org
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service: www.nmfs.noaa.gov
Natural Resources Conservation Service: www.nrcs.usda.gov
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program: http://partners.fws.gov
United States Army Corps of Engineers: www.usace.army.mil
United States Department of Agriculture: www.sc.egov.usda.gov
United States Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov
United States Fish & Wildlife Service: www.fws.gov
California Coastal Conservancy: www.coastalconservancy.ca.gov
California Department of Fish and Wildlife: www.dfg.ca.gov
California Regional Water Quality Control Boards, North Coast Region: www.swrcb.ca.gov/rwqcb
California State Water Resources Control Board: www.swrcb.ca.gov
University of California Cooperative Extension: http://cesonoma.ucdavis.edu/
Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District: www.sonomaopenspace.org
Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works: www.sonomacountypublicworks.com
Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department: www.sonoma-county.org/prmd
Sonoma County Public Health Division: www.sonoma-county.org/health/ph
Sonoma County Regional Parks Department: www.sonoma-county.org/parks
Sonoma County Water Agency: www.scwa.ca.gov
Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner: www.sonoma-county.org/agcomm
Sonoma County Farm Bureau: www.sonomacountyfarmbureau.com
Sonoma County Farm Trails: www.farmtrails.org
Sonoma County Winegrape Commission: www.sonomagrapevine.org
Sonoma Land Trust: www.sonomalandtrust.org
California Waterfowl Association: www.calwaterfowl.org
Community Alliance of Family Farmers: www.caff.org
Ducks Unlimited: www.ducks.org
Trout Unlimited: www.tu.org

For more information about the Austin Creek Watershed, please contact Aaron Fairbrook at 707.569.1448 ext 106 or afairbrook@sonomarcd.org.