Water rights holders in the Russian River watershed can breathe easy for at least a few more weeks.
State Water Resources Control Board staff had predicted water diversion cuts would likely be imposed starting June 16, but they now say they won’t be needed until at least early July.
This means that ranchers, grape growers, municipalities and community water districts can continue to draw water from the river and its tributaries for a few more weeks before supplying Lake Mendocino and potentially the lake. Sonoma does not drop enough for the state to declare there is not enough water. available to certain rights holders.
Lake Mendocino is currently below 58% of water supply goal for this time of year. The lake provides the water that maintains the headwaters of the Russian River during the summer months, once natural runoff and seepage no longer feeds the creek.
Water managers are required to maintain enough water behind Coyote Dam to support federally protected fish and meet basic human health and safety needs year-round. When there is not enough water, rights may be restricted for some people. Last year, rights were reduced for 1,800 users.
Lake Sonoma is less than 56% of its water supply capacity, but is about 2½ times larger than Lake Mendocino upstream, so its supplies can last longer. But, even though the region received more precipitation last winter than in either of the previous two — about 77% of normal throughout the watershed — Lake Sonoma’s storage level closely matches Last year. Both reservoirs have multi-year deficits to fill.
All water rights holders are still required by state ordinance to monitor the state’s list of water board reductions to stay current.
The delay in cuts has the benefit of allowing State Water Board staff to assess the enrollment and distribution of participants in a groundbreaking voluntary water-sharing agreement intended to allow those who have older and “senior” water rights who are least likely to be reduced to share the pain with those who are the first to have their rights suspended.
Participants must agree to use less water than they are allocated so that those who are reduced can use some rather than having none.
Participants have until June 20 to register. Water Board staff will then determine if there are enough participants, and enough senior rights holders among them, to make the program work this year.
More information is available at waterboards.ca.gov/drought/russian_river/voluntary_program.html and waterboards.ca.gov/drought/russian_river/.
You can reach editor Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected] On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.