Be Ready for the 2019-2020 Season
Local agencies and community groups are taking action to help property owners protect our watershed, and prevent flooding and storm water pollution after the 2019 Kincade Fire by implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs). BMPs are used to keep pollutants from entering storm drains and our natural water bodies like creeks and rivers.
The County of Sonoma has developed contracts Russian Riverkeeper, Community Soil Foundation, and Sonoma Ecology Center to assist with site assessments and, for high risk locations, install temporary BMPs until the burn debris has been removed by the property owner and new BMPs have been install as part of the Fire Debris Removal process. To request site assessment assistance from these community groups, please contact Kristin Suarez at Community Soil Foundation firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 564-4119 (mobile).
There are many types of BMP materials and methods. BMPs must be properly installed and maintained in order to function, and may need to be replaced prior to each rainy season, particularly after a wildfire has damaged vegetation and soils.
There are many different site conditions, each requiring BMPs suited for those specific site conditions. What one property may need varies from what another property needs for proper BMPs. Each site depends on the unique combination of slopes, location of creeks and inlets, fire damage, and other factors. Some properties may require wattles while others may simply benefit from weed free straw mulching or other measures.
Additional places to get assistance and information include the Sonoma County Storm Water and Creeks team at (707) 565-6186, the Sonoma Resource Conservation District (Sonoma RCD) at (707) 569-1448 x110 or at https://sonomarcd.org/resources/fire-recovery/ and at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service at (707) 794-1242 ext 3.
The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) 2019 Fire Recovery Guide addresses many post-fire questions in an easy-to-use, free booklet. The new statewide guide is a collaborative effort between CNPS, dozens of partner organizations, and scientists across the state, including many here in Sonoma County.
Two additional documents from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provide information of what property owners can do to Restore Forestland After a Fire as well as Do’s and Don’ts for Property Owners.
For property owners in the County of Sonoma:
- Making Sure Your Parcel is Ready for Winter (PDF)
- Asegurese de que su parcela este lista para el invierno (PDF)
- Construction Site – Storm Water Pollution Prevention (PDF)
- Prevención de contaminación de las aguas pluviales en las obras deconstrucción (PDF)
Additional Erosion Control and Flood Prevention Resources
Publications and services relating to erosion control can be found on the Sonoma Resource Conservation District Website at: http://sonomarcd.org/resources/fire-recovery
- Sonoma RCD Natural Resources Recovery Guide 11-4-19 (PDF: 617 kB)
- Sonoma Ecology Center Fire Recovery
- Preparing for Winter After the Fire: What Property Owners Can Do
- Erosion Control Mats (PDF) – by USDA
- Log Erosion Barriers (PDF) – by USDA
- Straw Mulching for Erosion Control (PDF) – by Rich Casale, CPESC
- Best Management Practices for Agriculture Erosion and Sedimentation Control, Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, Revised 12/13/2013 (PDF: 9.54 MB)
- Erosion and Sediment Control Field Manual, Fourth Edition, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region, 2002
- CalTrans Construction Site Best Management Practices (BMP) Manual (PDF) – CalTrans
Property Owner and Contractor Responsibilities
As property owners begin the process of clean-up and rebuilding following the fires, it is your responsibility to control storm runoff. Property owners and contractors on burned lots and rebuild sites must prevent pollutants, including sediment, from entering storm drains, creeks, rivers, and wetlands.
Wattles and other BMP materials, such as straw, are available for purchase at various agriculture, garden supply and hardware stores.
Increased Risk of Flooding
A multi-agency analysis of the Kincade Fire damage found that properties located within fire burn areas may still be at risk for flash floods, mudflows and debris flows.
To familiarize yourself with the potential hazards associated with the burned areas please view the Limited Scope Post-Fire Hazard Assessment Map.
The National Weather Service expects debris flows to become more likely during periods of intense rainfall. Be prepared by:
- Identifying vulnerable areas on your property.
- Using erosion control techniques, such as installing wattles and rock bags, and clearing fire-related debris from creeks and drainages to reduce flooding.
- Have an evacuation and emergency plan ready.
- Keep your cell phone turned on at all times to receive emergency alerts.
- Sonoma Water installed several rainfall and stream gauges in burned areas within watersheds affected by the 2017 wildfires and is working collaboratively with multiple agencies to expand the system into the Kincade Fire burn areas to provide increased situational awareness for watershed protection. Sonoma Water has also installed new radar equipment to improve early warning forecasts for residents in high-risk areas. Use this link for real-time data: sonoma.onerain.com
- The California Nevada River Forecast Center has also added a new forecast point on Big Sulphur Creek that will forecast creek stages and flows in advance of winter storms. This information may be useful for residents living within the watershed affected by the Kincade Fire. (https://www.cnrfc.noaa.gov/graphicalRVF.php?id=BSCC1).
National Weather Service Warning System
- The National Weather Service issues weather advisories and watches when the weather forecast indicates there is a potential for hazardous conditions. Watches and advisories are shared online at https://www.weather.gov/alerts, and on the National Weather Service social media Facebook and Twitter feeds.
- The National Weather Service will issue a Warning if hazardous conditions are imminent or occurring within the burn areas.
- The National Weather Service sends Warnings over the Wireless Emergency Alerts system that will send a message to all cell phones in the burn areas and will also send out alerts through the Emergency Alert System that broadcasts on radios and televisions.
Sign up for Sonoma County Emergency Alerts
- Sign up to receive emergency notifications at SoCoAlert.com. SoCoAlert will be used to send an emergency notification if there is an imminent threat to life or property.
Weather Emergency Radios
- In areas where there is limited cell service, or if a power outage occurs, Emergency Warnings from the National Weather Service will be announced on the Weather Emergency Radios, which rely on batteries.
Emergency public hotlines – Flood, sanitation, streams maintenance
- Flood Forecast Hotline: (707) 526-4768
The Flood Forecast is a recording that provides updates on local river conditions. The recordings are updated by Sonoma Water as conditions change.
- Stream Maintenance: (707) 521-1845
Report any stream related issues, such as debris or stream channel changes, to prevent localized flooding.
- Sewage Emergency Hotline: (707) 523-1070
The Sewage Emergency Hotline is operated on a 24-hour basis at Sonoma Water’s Operations Center. Call this hotline to report any sewage spills, overflows or backed-up sewer lines.
Inspections, Enforcement, & Complaints
Inspections may occur throughout the rainy season to ensure adequate wet weather protections are in place and functioning well.
It is important to have needed BMPs in place. The County of Sonoma’s goal is to work with property owners and contractors to come into compliance through public education efforts and site-specific communication. It is the County’s policy to follow a progressive communication practice prior to any potential formal enforcement.
The County and the State can receive concerns about issues from the public or property owners regarding erosion, including concerns in or near waterways. Contact information for both the County and State can be found at: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/PRMD/Eng-and-Constr/Grading-and-Storm-Water/Spill-Reporting/
Frequently Asked Questions
Things property owners in burned areas, or downstream of burned areas, can do to prevent or report flooding or debris issues
- If you see something (flooding, mud and debris flows), say something – call 911
- Monitor your surroundings, and have an emergency plan in place.
- Stay informed: Listen to local radio stations, and sign up for Nixle and SoCo Alerts. Make sure that the emergency alerts on your cell phone are activated (on smart phones, go to “Notifications” and make sure the Emergency Alerts notification is turned on).
- Install straw wattles to prevent debris, ash and erosion from flowing into waterways. Straw wattles can be picked-up from local hardware stores.
After a fire, windborne material such as ash and soil from paddocks with inadequate ground cover may be blown into streams. Once in the water, organic materials provide ideal food for bacteria and algae. These organisms grow rapidly using up all free oxygen in the water (it becomes anaerobic) and putrefaction results. Symptoms are dark water, a bad smell and black scum around the water’s edge. Horses and other livestock find such water unpalatable. Thick scum around the water’s edge may also prevent animals accessing the water. It is believed the water is not poisonous to livestock, but it may be harmful to young or weak stock.
- Fire ash contains microscopic particles (dust, dirt, soot) that can be deposited on indoor and outdoor surfaces and can also be inhaled if the ash becomes airborne. Unless tested, the ash is not classified as a hazardous waste, however it may contain traces of hazardous chemicals such as metals (lead, cadmium, nickel, and arsenic), asbestos (from older homes or other buildings), perfluorochemicals (from degradation of non-stick cookware), flame retardants, and caustic materials. For these reasons, it is advisable to be cautious and avoid any unnecessary exposure to the ash.
- Fire ash may be irritating to the skin, nose, and throat, and may cause coughing and/or nose bleeds. Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into lungs and may aggravate asthma and make it difficult to breathe. If the ash contains asbestos, nickel, arsenic or cadmium, then exposure is a particular concern because these substances can cause cancer. Because the substances in the ash vary, it is always best to be cautious.
- Given the scale of the burned area, it will be impossible to prevent the migration of ash and debris into creeks, and the concentrations of hazardous materials is unknown.
- Community Soil Foundation, Russian Riverkeeper, and Sonoma Ecology Center are working, with support from the County, to prevent fire-related debris, pollutants and sediment from being carried into our creeks and rivers. Where this work is occurring on private land, these entities receive permission from the landowner before entering the site. This work is occurring in phases, based on greatest known risk of these contaminants getting into waterways.
- The goal is to prevent ash and debris from entering the waterways. You can help by taking simple steps by placing straw wattles, hay bales, and mulch around burned areas to reduce the chances of ashes and other material from washing into streams.
Increased rain runoff in burned areas can cause mud and debris flows. Multiple, federal, state, and local agencies are taking action to protect our watershed and prevent flooding, this includes:
- In urban areas, the Town of Windsor is monitoring storm drains and drainage ways.
- In rural areas, the County is checking and installing debris-capture devices in culverts and ditches along rural roadways.
- The Sonoma County Agricultural & Open Space District and Sonoma County Regional Parks, are assessing their properties within the burned areas for hazardous conditions including downed and damaged trees and areas where erosion may affect streams and watersheds.
- To familiarize yourself with the potential hazards associated with the burned areas please view the Limited Scope Post-Fire Hazard Assessment Map.
- The Sonoma County Water Agency has installed rainfall and stream gauges in watersheds in burned areas and is working to install radar equipment to improve early warning forecasts for residents in high-risk areas. To learn more about the gauges, Sonoma Water has an interactive map with live data from county-wide streamflow and rainfall gauges to assist the public during storm events: https://sonoma.onerain.com
- The Sonoma County Water Agency has a Flood Forecast and Emergency Information website available to assist the public during storm events.
- Watch for unusual movement of water, land, and debris during or after rain. Have an emergency plan and leave your property if it becomes unsafe during or after a storm.
- Minimize soil and slope disturbances. Ash, leaf drops, downed trees, and remnant burned vegetation all play a role in protecting the soil and slopes following wildfire.
- Work with your neighbors. Runoff, erosion, and debris flows have no boundaries.
- Private roads require more maintenance in the first few winters following wildfire. Clear debris upstream of culverts as possible, and check culverts for clogging after every storm. If culverts or other road drainage structures do not appear to be functioning properly, consult a professional.
- The goal this winter is to prevent ash and debris from entering the waterways. You can help by taking simple steps by placing straw wattles, hay bales, and mulch around burned areas to reduce the chances of ashes and other material from washing into streams.
- Remember that everything that is outside drains to creeks and streams. Don’t use leaf blowers or hoses to remove ash and debris.
- Consider consulting a professional before implementing permanent erosion measures.
- Wear protective gear whenever you work in burned areas.