Raft company struggles to stay afloat as drought depletes Russian River

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Near Healdsburg, this year, portions of the Russian River have become a dry, ghastly sight.

In the midst of mandatory water restrictions, the drought is getting tough on everyone, even Larry Laba, who keeps an odd and appropriate collection of flip-flops tacked to a wooden fence outside his business.

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"Those are lost souls," replies Larry for maybe the something-thousandth time.

"Do they ever come back?"

"Always."

Even this year, the 20th in which Larry has sent his customers floating in rafts nine miles down the Russian River. That they are still doing so in 2021 feels almost like a miracle.

"This is historically the lowest I have ever seen it."

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How low is the water? So low that long-hidden rocks now sit in daylight for the first time in memory. It's a challenge for the man who makes his living as owner of Russian River Adventures.

"When I first looked at the Russian River 20 years ago, I hesitated because I knew this day would come."

Now that it has, he must adjust.

"The drought is worse than COVID," Larry said. Russian River Adventures still sells out weekends and holidays. "Pre-pandemic we had twice as many people on the water."

With the drought, Larry has changed his marketing.

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"I tell them they can be part of a historically low year," he says. It's working. "I warn them that they might need to drag the raft a hundred yards or so, maybe for two or three minutes. Then, they will be on the water for anywhere from four to six hours."

"It's low, but fun," said Todd Waks, from Los Angeles. "I just like being out on the water and being the family."

Cool water, and more than enough of it on a hot day.

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

If the climate brings you drought, make your customers part of it.

At least, to a point. "But if it gets any worse, it's over," observed Larry.

It would not be good for all of those lost souls.

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