The Sonoma County Water Agency has received permission from the state to lower minimum flows in the upper Russian River, the first move of a battle plan against an impending drought.
The change will help preserve water in Lake Mendocino and give the agency more operational flexibility. Located northeast of the Ukiah, the lake relies on annual rainfall and diversions from the Eel River watershed through PG&E’s Potter Valley Project. To date, 2013 has been the driest calendar year since 1894.
Without rainfall and the reduction of flow by two-thirds, Lake Mendocino would quickly drop to unsafe levels, officials said.
“Unfortunately, we must assume that the new year will be dry, and plan accordingly,” said Water Agency Director Mike McGuire.
Minimum flows in the lower river will remain the same. Most of the water in the lower Russian River is supplied by Lake Sonoma, which is larger than Lake Mendocino and is designed to supply water for multiple years.
The water agency will also work closely with natural resource agencies to maintain river flows at levels that will support migrating endangered coho salmon and threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead
“This dry year is a reminder of why we need to use water efficiently and to increase opportunities to irrigate with recycled water,” said Water Agency Director Susan Gorin. “We need to carefully preserve our precious, limited river water and groundwater.”