Wayne Koniuk was back Sunday for a canoe ride on the Russian River, the seventh time this year the San Francisco man has paddled the waterway above Healdsburg.
"It's still good. There are only two parts where you have to get out of the boat and push the canoe through," he said.
"We haven't found it too disruptive," his wife Karen said of the lower than average water level in the river. "We still have a great trip."
A dry spring resulted last month in some of the lowest river levels seen in decades. Although releases from Lake Mendocino have since increased and brought the river up, there are ongoing concerns about the impact to recreation.
"I don't tell people it's business as usual," said Lollie Mercer, owner of River's Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips in Healdsburg. "There's less river to paddle in, and in the river channels under the trees our clients have to duck a lot. And they hit sandbars. They have to get out more often."
"In June, the river was absolutely at the lowest we've seen it ... since the 1976 drought. Luckily it's come up since then," said Don McEnhill, director of Russian Riverkeeper, a conservation group that advocates for clean water and healthy rivers.
He said that 25 percent more water has been released from the dam since late June, which "has made a positive difference."
Releases from Coyote Dam at Lake Mendocino, near Ukiah, are controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Officials have a number of things to weigh that include providing water for domestic use, agriculture, fish migration, as well recreation.
The river is a main source of potable water for more than 600,000 residents in the North Bay who are served by the water agency.
Both McEnhill, Mercer and others who depend on the Russian River for their livelihood said the Army Corps released too much water into the river last winter and early spring, trying to make sure there was enough capacity at Lake Mendocino to provide for flood control.
But after a very wet December, the rains disappeared, making it one of the driest springs on record.
"All that precious water was released, thinking the storms would come. And they didn't materialize. That was too bad," said Linda Burke, owner of Burke's Canoe trips in Forestville.
In February, March and April, "I watched tens of thousands of acre feet of water — that precious resource — go out to the ocean, never to be seen again," said Mercer. "I believe it was poorly managed."
Attempts to reach Water Agency and Army Corps officials for comment Sunday were unsuccessful. But Riverkeeper's McEnhill said both agencies are studying ways to better forecast the weather and manage storage at Lake Mendocino.
"They have an operating manual authorized by Congress," McEnhill said. The releases from Lake Mendocino "are not something they do willy nilly. It's a very elaborate process to try to modify the way they operate the dam.
"I believe they got feedback from the community in June. Often when flows are that low you get phosphate spike problems," McEnhill said, explaining that it stimulates algae blooms, consumes oxygen in the water and harms endangered fish.