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Mendocino County may declare drought emergency

  • 1/3/2014:B3: Lake Mendocino, pictured earlier this week, was at 38.7 percent of capacity Thursday. The low water level has prompted the Sonoma County Water Agency to cut flows into the Russian River.

    PC: The level of Lake Mendocino continues to drop, Monday Dec. 30. 2013 in Ukiah. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Mendocino County supervisors today may declare a local drought emergency as rainfall continues to bypass the North Coast.

"I just felt we couldn't wait any longer. We have to get plans in place," said Mendocino County Supervisor Carre Brown who, with Supervisor John Pinches, is proposing the emergency declaration.

The declaration states there is "an imminent threat of disaster" from drought. People, businesses, wildlife and recreation are impacted, Brown said.

Worried water agencies throughout the North Coast are considering and implementing water-saving measures as the area appears poised to enter another year with minimal rainfall. Last year was a record dry year on the North Coast, with just 7.67 inches falling in the upper reaches of the Russian River.

Once the board declares an emergency, it is expected to appoint two of its members to help evaluate water conditions in the county and work on solutions with local and state authorities. Brown hopes the evaluation will be completed within two weeks because there's little time to spare.

Water agencies in the county already are asking their customers to conserve water voluntarily but stricter, mandatory rules will be required unless there's some significant rainfall soon, Brown said.

There have been reports that some wells in the county are drying up and Lake Mendocino, which provides water to Ukiah Valley residents and ranchers, is critically low. Fish in the Russian River also depend on water flows from Lake Mendocino.

Brown said drought fears have been keeping her up at night. The Mendocino County agricultural economy is particularly in jeopardy, she said.

Crops in the Ukiah and Hopland valleys are highly dependent on water in Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. Despite extraordinary efforts to limit the amount of water released out of Lake Mendocino, its level had dropped Monday to 707.3 feet in elevation. That puts the reservoir at about 25,900 acre feet, a near record low, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam operators.

Last Thursday, the lake held 26,280 acre feet of water. An acre foot of water normally can supply two California households for a year.

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