West Coast
View of the breached barrier beach at the mouth of the Russian River (photo: Sonoma Sheriff)

CA - The Russian River estuary opened and flowed into the ocean on its own; self breach!

The barrier beach at the mouth of the Russian River breached late in the afternoon on Thursday, January 7, 2021. Sonoma Water did not artificially breach the barrier beach.

The maximum water surface elevation measured at the USGS Hwy 1 stage gage was 10.23 feet. This would likely be approximately 10.4 feet at the Jenner gage.

It took a few hours, but water levels began to decline overnight and the water elevation is currently at 3.33 ft at the USGS Hwy 1 stage gage.

A few clarifications:

Barrier beach, beach berm – The sand ridge that separates the Russian River estuary from the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes shortened to just ‘beach’. The Russian River Biological Opinion uses ‘sandbar’ as a synonym.

Breaching – Removal of sand from the barrier beach that forms a channel for water to flow between the estuary and ocean. ‘Natural’ refers to breaches that occur without human intervention and ‘artificial’ to describe breaches that are the result of human sand excavation. ‘Self-breach’ refers to breaches caused by the estuary’s own rising water levels that scour the beach open.

The Russian River Estuary closes throughout the year as a result of a sandbar forming at the mouth of the Russian River. The sandbar usually closes during the spring, summer, and fall when river flows are relatively low and long-period waves transport sand landward, rebuilding the beach that was removed by winter waves and river outflows. Closures result in ponding of the Russian River behind the sandbar and water level increases in the Estuary.

In the past, Sonoma Water mechanically breached the sandbar to alleviate potential flooding of low-lying shoreline properties near the town of Jenner. Beginning in Summer 2010, Sonoma Water began implementing a new way of breaching the estuary to enhance rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids (particularly steelhead during the summer), while still managing estuary water levels to minimize flood hazards.

About the Russian River Estuary

Russian River EstuaryThe Russian River Estuary closes throughout the year as a result of a sandbar forming at the mouth of the Russian River. The sandbar usually closes during the spring, summer, and fall when river flows are relatively low and long period waves transport sand landward, rebuilding the beach that was removed by winter waves and river outflows. Closures result in ponding of the Russian River behind the sandbar and water level increases in the Estuary. Natural breaching events occur when estuary water surface levels exceed the sandbar height and overtop the sandbar, scouring an outlet channel. Public agencies have been involved in breaching the sandbar since at least the 1960s. Sonoma Water became responsible for breaching activities in 1994.

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