What’s Up with the Seasonal Dams?

Normally the Russian River during the summer months is only ankle to knee deep which would make for some uncomfortable cannon balls off the local rope swings. Fortunately for all of us vacationers, the seasonal dams raise the water levels by about 10′, making our swimming, floating, and boating adventures possible.

Why aren’t the dams in all year long? 

The Russian River, a southward-flowing river, drains 1,485 square miles (3,846 km2) of Sonoma and Mendocino counties in Northern California. With an annual average discharge of approximately 1,600,000 acre feet (2.0 km3), it is the second-largest river (after the Sacramento River) flowing through the nine-county Greater San Francisco Bay Area, with a mainstem 110 miles (177 km.) long.

According to Wikipedia 

With such a large catchment area, the Russian River typically runs 16-20 feet higher during the winter months. Many of the permanent docks you see along the river shore are well under water during these high water periods. Naturally you can imagine that if the seasonal dams were permanent, we would be looking at even higher water levels that would easily flood the vacation homes lining the River and backup into downtown Guerneville.

Who gets to decide when the dams are installed and removed? 

Families enjoying a swim at Vacation Beach Dam (c. early 20th Century)

The dams are are maintained by the Russian River Recreation and Parks District which was created in 1941 for this very purpose. Part of the Sonoma County Transient Occupancy Tax dollars go to fund the seasonal dams located at Vacation Beach (1 mile downriver from the Lucky Bend Lookout vacation rental) and at Johnson’s Beach (1 mile upriver) in downtown Guerneville. At the beginning of summer, the dams are typically installed starting with Vacation Beach in mid-June and it typically takes 5 days for the construction and for the water levels to rise. Following the Vacation Beach the crew moves upriver to install the Johnson’s Beach dam which takes another 5 days. At the beginning of fall the dams are typically removed starting with Vacation Beach dam in mid-September.

What about the dock at Lucky Bend Lookout? 

Fortunately our dock is a floating dock with an adjustable gangplank so it can adjust somewhat to the changing water levels. We usually try to put the dock in around Memorial Day and keep the dock in until sometime in October. This schedule, however,  is dependent upon the weather and the rental schedule so we don’t commit to the dock being in the river between particular dates.

To check on the exact schedule for the dam placement and removal, go to the Russian River Rec and Park Facebook Page.

This local insight brought to you by your hosts at Lucky Bend Lookout; a modern yet family-friendly Russian River vacation home. Check our availability and book online or call/text Sarah at 415-516-6961 to reserve.