Officials: North Coast water conservation must continue

  • James Black of Grants Pass, Oregon, left and Rhonda Santos take in a day of swimming with their dog Echo on the dry lakebed of Lake Mendocino in Ukiah, Wednesday Aug. 14, 2013. Months of below average rainfall has depleted the reservoir heading in to the hottest months of the year. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

North Bay residents appear to be holding the line on water use this summer, narrowly conserving enough to forestall the kind of water emergency that could provoke state intervention and trigger the need to cut consumption even more.

But the summer isn't over, and an unusually dry spring has put storage in Lakes Sonoma and Mendocino at their lowest levels in at least five years, according to the Sonoma County Water Agency.

"I can tell you right now that every water planner in our office is on pins and needles," waiting to see what the next month or two brings, agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said this week.

Lake Mendocino Water Worries


"This is serious," the agency's Assistant General Manager Pam Jeane said. "We have had an extremely dry spring, and anything anybody can do to save even a small amount of water would be extremely helpful."

Already, Lake Mendocino's water supply is down to just 43 percent of its storage capacity, or about 48,000 acre feet, according to water agency data.

The water level is so low that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday it was closing the popular lake to motorized boat travel for the foreseeable future.

Mid-summer levels haven't been this low since the 1970s, according to data from the California Department of Water Resources.

Storage at much larger Lake Sonoma is at 83 percent of capacity, but that is lower even than in 2009, when the state Water Resources Control Board directed the Sonoma County Water Agency's 600,000 domestic customers to reduce water use by 25 percent.

Residents of Sonoma and northern Marin counties have responded well to a plea from the local water agency in early June to conserve water use through a "20-gallon challenge," urging each resident to find ways to use 20 gallons less water each day.

Reduced consumption, despite heat waves in June and early July, is particularly good news given earlier high demand and polling data indicating residents had little awareness of the need to conserve this year.

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