In drought dilemma, water district cuts off growers to ensure supply for homes

A small water district in Mendocino County will be shutting off the valves Monday that supply irrigation to more than 2,000 acres of vineyards and other crops, leaving nearly 200 farming customers without their main source of water, a shortfall that likely foreshadows what's ahead statewide for many growers as the drought stretches on.

There just isn't enough water in Lake Mendocino, the main reservoir in the upper Russian River basin, to supply all water users, officials said.

For the Redwood Valley County Water District, that means prioritizing deliveries to its 5,000 residential customers over its farmers, as required by state law.

"We had no choice. It's the last thing we wanted to do," said Ken Todd, a Redwood Valley water board member who owns 150acres of vineyards and manages another 150 acres for others in the valley, located about 8miles north of Ukiah.

Under the best of circumstances, Todd said he expects to lose 20 percent of the winegrape crops on about half the vineyards he oversees — the ones with only small reservoirs to make it through the growing season. At worst, it could be a total loss this year for those vineyards, he said.

The 50-year-old Redwood Valley water district is in a pinch because it has a limited right to water from Lake Mendocino. In dry years, that right is practically non-existent. The district has operated under a decades-long moratorium for new hookups because of the situation.

On Thursday night, however, district officials said they made an unprecedented springtime decision, voting 3 to 1, with one abstention, to cut off water supplies to all of their growers.

The move looks to be the first instance of a water supplier halting deliveries on the North Coast amid the current drought.

It comes after California last year recorded its driest year on record, and as farmers in the Central Valley, the state's main agricultural region, and agencies serving more than 25 million residents are facing drastically lower deliveries, with just 5 percent of their requested allotment expected from the State Water Project this season.

On the North Coast, which has different water supply, growers are expecting curtailments as well.

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