Meanwhile, a severe drought is looming

Posted on April 1, 2021 by Val Robichaud

While we’re busy dealing with a pandemic, there’s another disaster looming on the cloudless horizon, a potential crisis flying under the Doppler: drought.

State officials haven’t declared one yet, but two consecutive dry years have created conditions more severe than the brick-in-the-toilet spell of 2013 through 2014.

Regionally, water supply levels at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma — the agency’s two primary reservoirs — are at historic lows. As in, lowest levels ever recorded at this time of the year.

The State Water Resources Control Board has issued early warning notices to some 40,000 water rights holders statewide, urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and the implementation of conservation measures. 

“These notices indicate the seriousness of the situation for water users throughout the Russian River watershed,” warns a bulletin from the Sonoma Water Agency. “We anticipate voluntary water conservation measures to be adopted by our Water Contractors and the potential for mandatory measures as well.”

Lake Mendocino (above, in January of this year) is at 46% and Lake Sonoma is at 63% of water supply capacity. Without measures to reduce diversions from the Russian River, the SWA warns, Lake Mendocino could reach levels too low “to support releases for water supply and fish migration by fall of 2021.”

The SWA, which is the water supplier to Sonoma Valley and the City of Sonoma system, is taking action.

Since last summer it’s been working closely with the state to develop a plan to manage reservoir releases, and minimize diversions by Russian River water users to prevent both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma from reaching severely low storage levels. 

On the table is a plan for Sonoma Water to voluntarily reduce diversions from the Russian River

But that, and other preliminary mitigation tactics, may not be enough. Projections indicate that if Sonoma Water and Russian River water users take no action, storage in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma would reach historic lows by the fall of this year.

“Proposed flow changes and diversion reductions by Sonoma Water alone will not be enough to address the water supply challenges the region faces,” the report states. “It will require a concerted and coordinated effort by all users to reduce water use from the Russian River. Sonoma Water will work with water users throughout the entire watershed – urban, agricultural, recreational – to reduce water use and diversions.”

The Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership has launched a Winter-Spring Saving Water Campaign with all its members. This campaign includes print, digital and radio advertising to encourage water saving practices, with an emphasis on outdoor water use reductions. The Partnership is collaborating with the upper Russian River water managers on the water-saving campaign and is preparing to broaden its water conservation campaign with increased advertising, public events and targeted outreach as the summer months approach.



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