How to Prepare Burned Properties for Rain after the Walbridge/Meyers Fire
Local agencies and community groups are taking action to help property owners protect our watershed and prevent flooding and storm water pollution after the 2020 LNU Lightning Complex Fires by standing up a Watershed Task Force to identify urgent needs, develop resources and information, and implement 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 is assisting private property owners with critical elements such as assisting with site assessments and, for high risk locations, installing temporary BMPs until the burn debris has been removed by the property owner and new BMPs have been installed as part of the Fire Debris Removal process.
Affected property owners should contact Russian Riverkeeper, Community Soil Foundation, or Sonoma RCD to begin the technical assistance process based on their property’s unique situation.
For technical assistance and installation of questions regarding BMPs (wattles) and other erosion control efforts:
- Russian Riverkeeper: email@example.com (707) 433-1958
- Community Soil Foundation: Info@communitysoil.org (707) 889-1744
For technical assistance and questions regarding land and forest management:
Each of these local community organizations has worked on multiple post-fire BMP and long-term watershed recovery projects here in Sonoma County. They have excellent resources and provide expert technical assistance.
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. It is important to inspect BMPs regularly to make sure they are not damaged or backfilled to the point of needing maintenance.
There are many different site conditions, each requiring BMPs suited for those specific site conditions. The needs of each site depend 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.
Continue reading for important information and contacts with our local community-based organizations. Property owners are encouraged to reach out to these groups to start to learn what they should and should not be doing to make their property safe for winter.
Please watch this video on the basics of post-fire erosion control provided by USDA:
We have many good sources of information available from our agency partners here in Sonoma County.
USDA has a number of Financial Assistance Programs. Interested applicants should contact the NRCS Petaluma Service Office at (707) 794-1242, extension 3, for more information on applying to programs for agricultural operations impacted by wildfires in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Sonoma Resource Conservation District (RCD)
“In the wake of the fires over the last several years, the RCD continues to provide support to those impacted by wildfires in our community. If you have natural resources concerns on your fire-impacted property, please contact Shannon Drew at (707) 569-1448 x110 or SDrew@sonomarcd.org”
Sonoma RCD is offering these services related to fire recovery and resiliency in our impacted watersheds:
- Technical assistance information and site visits to determine resource needs and appropriate actions concerning erosion, riparian areas, forest management, etc
- Information and resources will be sent out in our eNews
- Connecting landowners with funding resources available for post-fire natural resource protection
- Natural resource permit assistance on a fee for service basis
Publications and services relating to erosion control can be found on the Sonoma Resource Conservation District Website.
California Native Plant Society (CNPS)
The 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.
- Permit Sonoma – Construction Site – Storm Water Pollution Prevention
- Sonoma County Storm Water and Creeks team can be contacted at (707) 565-6186
Additional Erosion Control and Flood Prevention Resources
- Sonoma Ecology Center Fire Recovery
- Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office – Best Management Practices for Agriculture Erosion and Sedimentation Control (PDF: 9.54 MB)
A Note about Straw Mulching for Erosion Control:
By Rich Casale, CPESC#3, Assisting the Natural Resources Conservation Service
- Straw mulching when done correctly with the right product and care can be one of the most effective measures to reduce runoff, erosion and sedimentation following fire even without seeding.
- If mulching is deeper than 4” it can delay recovery time of existing seed bank in the soil or in cases when seeding is done in conjunction with mulching.
- “Weed free” mulch such as rice straw is not necessarily “weed free”. It all depends on the source, transport carrier, and the staging area of the mulch. Note: Rice straw breaks down faster and doesn’t last as long as barley or wheat straw but it is less expensive.
- Mulching will not prevent invasive plants from taking over, in fact, studies show that mulching can actually aid in non-native establishment by retaining more moisture for longer periods than in areas not mulched.
- Mulch can be a fire hazard if installed when fire is still a danger especially in the interface of burned and unburned landscapes which happens to be where many firebreaks are located.
- Rice straw is very difficult to spread because it’s light and fluffy and has a tendency to stick together. Many workers get frustrated with it and end up throwing out big solid flakes that won’t let plants grow through.
- Mulching can be done in 6-10’ strips along the contour and spaced at 50-100’ intervals (depending on slope) to make it go a longer way on large areas needing protection. This method will also help break down long steep slopes to slow runoff and trap sediment. Where steep slopes and/or wind is an issue straw can be “tucked” or “tracked” in by hand or by equipment or covered with netting to hold in place.
- Straw mulch that is not certified as “weed free” will not only have weed seed in it but might have other non-native grass seed in it as well.
- Mulching is best used around homes & home sites, above watercourses (but not on streambanks) alongside roads and water bodies. Wide spread mulching over the watershed by hand or by plane is not cost effective nor provides significant benefits where this practice has been used in the past. Wide spread straw mulching may also contribute to the widespread establishment of non-native plants.
- Straw mulch should be used in free form. If and whenever straw is used in bale form then installation of whole bales should only be done according to a design prepared by a certified erosion control specialist and regularly maintained throughout the first rainy season following fire. The bale structure should then be removed or replaced with a more permanent structure after the first rainy season.
- Note: When straw bales get wet they become a brick wall and have absolutely no sediment filtration function.
- Mulching is not needed in areas where tree leaf drop is heavy from heat damaged trees.
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.
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 on the Permit Sonoma website.
Post-fire land regeneration series
Frequently Asked Questions
- 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.
- Review this information on preparing for a potential landslide.
- 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.