In a move designed to preserve water in Lake Mendocino and other reservoirs that provide a crucial source of water, especially during droughts, North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman has introduced legislation to update rules governing the release of water during the winter rainy season.
The legislation, introduced this week, would make it easier for local agencies to seek reductions in winter water releases from reservoirs operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Critics say the Corps follows outdated rules that were responsible for unnecessary water releases from Lake Mendocino last winter. The releases, designed to minimize the threat of flooding, have exacerbated this year's water shortage.
Local water officials who have been lobbying for changes in the Corps' water release rules were thrilled by the news.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to see a member of Congress act," said Sean White, director of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, which holds the rights to 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino.
"To be stuck with a rule curve that was developed before the advent of computers and satellite-based forecasting in the year 2014 is nothing short of ridiculous," he said.
The Corps' Lake Mendocino manual currently dictates maximum lake levels on specific dates, even when there's no rain in the immediate future. The rules are aimed at preventing floods and the harm they can cause.
But strictly following the rules can have serious consequences in years with little rainfall.
The Corps has been criticized for releasing large amounts of water from Lake Mendocino during the last major storm of 2013.
Local water officials estimate the reservoir would contain an additional 24,000 acre-feet of water — about 7.8 billion gallons — had the Corps based its January 2013 releases on long-range weather forecasts instead of a chart created in the 1950s.