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Reduced Russian River Flows Approved by State Water Board

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Reduced Russian River Flows Approved by State Water Board

Action will preserve the equivalent of 10 percent of Lake Mendocino’s current water supply storage, or 6,300 acre-feet of water

By Brad Sherwood

Beginning immediately, the amount of water released from Lake Mendocino into the Russian River will be reduced in order to preserve water supplies during the ongoing drought.  The State Water Resources Control Board today (May 1, 2015) issued a Temporary Urgency Change Order allowing the Sonoma County Water Agency to reduce Russian River flows starting May 1 through October 27, 2015. View the Order and learn more online at www.sonomacountywater.org.

Dry spring conditions have worsened water supply storage levels in Lake Mendocino and state mandated in-stream flow requirements did not accurately reflect current hydrologic conditions within the Russian River watershed. Based on the Water Agency’s water rights permit, current hydrologic conditions would categorize water supply conditions as normal and therefore instream flows would have remained set at 185 cubic feet per second (cfs) through May 31.  

 Beginning June 1, minimum instream flows would have dropped to 75 cfs based on the requirements of the Water Agency’s water rights permits. 

As approved by the State Water Board, Russian River flows will be reduced to:

- Upper Russian River:  From 185 cfs to 75 cfs from the confluence of the Russian River’s east and west forks to the river’s confluence with Dry Creek

-  Lower Russian River:  From 125 cfs to 85 cfs from the confluence with Dry Creek to the Pacific Ocean

- To improve efforts to optimally manage flows in the Russian River, minimum instream flow requirements will be implemented on a 5-day running average of average daily stream flow measurements with instantaneous flows on the Upper Russian River being no less than 65 cfs and on the Lower Russian River being no less than 75 cfs.

“Our region needs to utilize every tool to best manage our water resources during this drought.  Temporarily amending our water rights to save as much as 10 percent of Lake Mendocino’s current water supply storage is one tool we can now implement thanks to the State Water Resources Control Board’s approval of our petition,” said Water Agency Director James Gore. “We will continue to coordinate with our stakeholders to ensure our fisheries and environment remains protected during this temporary reduction and will ensure the public remains updated by posting new information on our website, www.sonomacountywater.org.”

Water Agency Director Efren Carrillo added, “I am very pleased with the State Water Resource Control Board’s swift response in helping our region tackle this drought by allowing us to preserve as much water as possible in our reservoirs.  However, this alone will not be our answer to beating this drought.  We all must take individual actions to reduce our daily water use.  I encourage our community to contact their local drinking water supplier to learn how they can save water and participate in water conservation rebate programs.  A complete list of water suppliers is available online at www.sonomacountywater.org.” 

In 2013 and 2014, the Water Agency implemented three Temporary Urgency Change Orders which resulted in more than 25,000 acre-feet of water being saved in Lake Mendocino – equivalent to the reservoirs’ minimum storage in winter of 2014.

Reservoir conditions as of May 1, 2015:

Lake Mendocino: 69% of target water supply storage

Lake Sonoma:  87% of water supply storage

Current Russian River flows as of May 1, 2015:

Upper Russian River at Talmage:  185 cubic feet per second

Upper Russian River at Healdsburg:  258 cubic feet per second

Lower Russian River at Hacienda bridge:  327 cubic feet per second