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Cuts up to 50% could be mandated

  • Terry Cochrane the caretaker of the Lake Pillsbury Resort in northern Calif., stands on the dock Thursday Jan. 29, 2009. Cochrane has had to use bottled water for showers and cooking for weeks because the pump supplying water to the resort is high and dry due to the drought. During a normal wet year, the water would be approximately 30 to 40 feet deep at the dock. A graduate of Piner High School in 1976, Cochrane has never seen the lake this low. (AP Photo/Kent Porter - The Press Democrat)

The Sonoma County Water Agency expects to impose mandatory water restrictions in four to six weeks, the earliest and most aggressive step the agency has ever taken to combat what is shaping up to be a potentially devastating drought.

The agency will declare this a dry water year on Sunday and will begin reducing the amount of water it releases into the Russian River from Coyote Dam on Lake Mendocino.

Then on Monday, water officials will inform representatives of the agency?s major customers that mandatory water rationing of from 30 percent to 50percent is likely within four to six weeks.

It will be the first time the Water Agency has ever instituted mandatory water rationing, a reflection of just how dire the situation is becoming as the dry winter continues.

?This is most aggressive call in the whole Bay Area, said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the agency. ?We are completely dependent on Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino.?

It will be up to the individual cities and water districts the agency serves to implement conservation efforts. How drastic those plans are remains to be seen. But the agency says it wants the public to be fully aware of what lies ahead.

?We want to be totally transparent,? Sherwood said. ?The last thing we want to do is have people say, ?You didn?t warn us.?

Rainfall in Sonoma and Mendocino counties is less than half of average, providing little inflow into Lake Pillsbury, Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma, the primary sources of drinking water for 800,000 people from Ukiah to San Rafael.

Even if there is substantial rainfall, the North Bay may be reclassified as ?critically dry? on March 1, with severe summertime cuts in releases from both Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino that will reduce the water flow in the Russian River to 35cubic feet per second.

Those are levels that have not been seen since the drought years in the 1970s.

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