Strategic Plan 2023–2028



A watershed is an area of land that collects water from rain, fog, and snowmelt and transfers it into a common body of water, such as streams and rivers. When healthy and unobstructed, a watershed moves clean, cool water through miles of habitat to hydrate ecosystems and provides the critical role of recharging groundwater aquifers (naturally occurring underground water sources). Clean, flowing waterways also provide local Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout populations with the adequate water levels necessary to develop, make the journey to the ocean, and return upstream and spawn. Increased salmon and steelhead populations in specific areas indicate that the watershed is healthy and functioning.

The challenge

Human-made development and infrastructure and habitat destruction are responsible for the degradation of healthy watersheds. Rivers and streams are straightened, dammed, narrowed, disconnected, and contaminated. These alterations to the landscape create unnatural and often detrimental waterflow levels and destructive flood patterns. To address these issues, landowners collectively need to work across property lines on management practices that increase the natural function of the county’s stream and river systems. The consequences of failing to restore and maintain natural watershed functions can result in dry creek beds, empty aquifers, and habitat loss for aquatic species including the salmon and steelhead populations.

The solution

Scientists estimate that California’s aquifers could potentially have up to eight times the storage capacity of the state’s human made dams and reservoirs. Restoring the health and function of our watersheds and reversing the damages made by humans will provide the natural systems that slow, spread, and sink water efficiently across the land. This process is nature’s way of retaining moisture on the land, making it available to all life through its flowing waterways and capturing it underground in its aquifers for future use. By protecting and restoring waterways and watersheds, we return the fundamental process that creates essential habitats for fish, birds, and other wildlife while simultaneously building community resilience to droughts and flooding.


Securing fresh water for people and nature is foundational to our survival. By rehabilitating and reconnecting freshwater systems to restore natural watershed processes and increase water levels in rivers, streams, creeks, and aquifers, we can build water security for our region. Returning fresh water levels that provide pathways and habitat for fish, including species of salmon threatened with extinction, improves the ecosystems that depend on them.

Why this matters

All life depends on clean water, and it is critical that we return as much of it as we can back into the natural systems that sustain plants, animals, and humans, especially through long periods of drought. It is equally important to protect the natural habitat connected to these systems to ensure the survival of fish and wildlife, including keystone species like salmonids. Natural water systems will help to meet the growing demand for water while at the same time increasing our climate resiliency for the decades ahead.

Our approach

We will acquire, protect, and restore critical watershed areas, leveraging our partnerships, land management expertise, advocacy, and real estate transaction skills. By restoring watersheds, stream systems, and wetlands, we will promote healthy, cohesive ecosystems that enhance the long-term water supply in our streams and aquifers and provide habitat for salmonid species.

What We’ll Do

  • Protect land and water in key Coho salmon watersheds

    We will identify and protect properties in priority locations (as identified in the Russian River Subwatershed Conservation Assessment) for salmonid habitat, and engage in watershed acquisitions, water transactions, and conservation easements that protect their habitat and enhance water levels during critical low-flow months. We will also restore the waterways, wetlands, floodplains, and their adjacent upland areas on Sonoma Land Trust owned and protected lands that filter water to creeks for salmonids. This work includes the assessment of the Water Assets on our preserves and easements, with a project plan to be completed mid-2024.

  • Protect, restore, and monitor ecosystems to improve water levels

    Through restoration projects and practices, we will repair habitat and wetland vegetation, reconnect creeks and floodplains, and monitor their effects over time. We will share information to educate landowners on wetland restoration, forest management, grazing practices, meadow flooding, road erosion reduction, and freshwater conservation practices that can improve water flow levels. This work includes projects at Bidwell, Lakeville and Sonoma Creeks, and additional priority areas outside the Russian River Subwatershed Conservation Assessment.

  • Increase protection from drought and floods with nature

    Using the most current science available, we will identify key locations for new land protection projects that would replenish important underground aquifers across the county. In collaboration with our partners, we will acquire, protect, and restore areas where natural water systems occur that provide clean water to homes and wildlife alike. Working with city and county agencies, we will review and recommend actions that influence policies and ordinances that improve watershed protections that benefit communities for generations to come.