Lake Mendocino this week fell below 20,000 acre-feet (AF) of storage, falling short of a water conservation goal established to maintain adequate downstream flows for fisheries and human health and safety needs for municipal users.
A minimum storage goal of 20,000 AF by Oct. 1, 2021 was recommended by the Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) in the hopes of providing an adequate carry-over water supply entering the 2021-22 fall-winter rainy season. The reservoir’s storage level dropped below 20,000 AF on Thursday, August 26, signaling a worsening of the historic drought in the Russian River watershed.
Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Board of Directors Chair Lynda Hopkins said, “We were hopeful that continued conservation among water users in the Russian River watershed could keep us above that conservation goal in Lake Mendocino. Unfortunately, the water-saving efforts in the Upper Russian River have not been enough, even with state action being taken to curtail water rights. We really urge everyone to step up their water saving efforts. The only way we’re going to get through this drought is if we all do our part.”
Fourth District Supervisor and Sonoma Water Director James Gore said, “We need to take a regional approach to the drought. Recognizing the limits of our water supply, we must work together to continue to reduce consumption along the entire Russian River. Maintaining as much storage as possible in Lake Mendocino will keep enough water in the river for fisheries and human health and safety. We can meet that goal if we all work together.”
Water managers fear that as water levels drop in Lake Mendocino reservoir releases will not be able to meet minimum stream flows for fisheries and meet the human health and safety needs of downstream municipal users. In addition, there is concern that as the reservoir levels drop there may be a decline in water quality for downstream water users.
“The City of Healdsburg is currently achieving a 55% reduction in water use and has been doing so for nearly two months,” said Healdsburg Mayor Evelyn Mitchell. “The City adopted high levels of conservation early in the summer because we knew storage in Lake Mendocino was an issue. We are hopeful the entire watershed will band together to achieve significant conservation as the timing of this year’s rain is uncertain.”
“I encourage all Sonoma County residents to demonstrate resiliency by respecting our new reality,” said Cloverdale Mayor Marta Cruz. “We can all make significant progress by reducing water use, collecting and re-using water as a measure to keep us safe and healthy!”
In August of this year, the State of California curtailed water rights for hundreds of water rights holders in the upper and lower Russian River regions. Sonoma Water, which provides drinking water to more than 600,000 customers in the North Bay, has reduced its diversions from the Russian River by more than 20% over 2020 levels in response to drought conditions.