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Three days of rain have raised the levels in lakes Mendocino and Sonoma, the North Bay's primary water sources, but it's done little to ease the need for conservation this summer.

"They are gaining a little bit of storage, but still not great," said Pam Jeane, Sonoma County Water Agency's deputy chief engineer of operations. "In the scheme of things, it is not a whole lot because we started out so darn low."

The weekend winter storms blanketed California with enough heavy rain and snow to drench racers in the Tour of California, force the cancellation of the final round of the Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, and close passes both north and south.

But it would take two weeks of strong, steady rain more intense than what the North Bay received in this past storm to escape being considered a "critically dry" year, Jeane said.

"We are really thankful for this rain; it brings storage levels up some, but it is too little too late at this point," Jeane said.

In Sonoma County, since Tuesday, Cloverdale had the most rainfall, 4.53 inches, followed by Ukiah, 3.69 inches, and Sonoma, 3.65. Santa Rosa received 2.89 inches during the week and Petaluma 2.97 inches.

Showers were expected to continue through noon today, with a chance of some hail and thunderstorms. It will be followed by a break in the storm pattern until Saturday, when another storm is expected to hit, said Charles Bell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey.

Santa Rosa, the Water Agency's largest customer, on Thursday will consider a water rationing plan that involves extra use fees and possibly sets water allotments so small that residents won't be able to irrigate their lawns.

The Board of Utilities will consider recommending to City Council members immediate but voluntary conservation measures. The board also may recommend preparing to set new "water shortage" and "excess use" charges should mandatory rationing become warranted.

If supported by the board, the council could decide in April whether to implement the new charges, a staff member said last week. The charges would be based upon a water contingency plan that the council adopted in 2006.

Council member John Sawyer said that without more rain, city residents might start watering their lawns in March. He asked why the Sonoma County Water Agency was "choosing to delay" a declaration of a water emergency.

Mayor Susan Gorin responded that the water agency staff members were working on the many required details before water rationing can begin for agricultural and urban users.

"Their task is very complex and they have such a balancing act to do," she said.

Lake Mendocino on Monday morning had 33,975 acre-feet of water, which is critically dry. Last year at this time, it had 73,486 acre-feet.

The lake gained 3,495 acre-feet of water in the past week, but would need to gain 1,200 acre-feet a day just to get upgraded to "dry."

The Water Agency expects on March 1 to declare it a "critically dry" year, which will allow it to cut in half the amount of water it releases from Lake Mendocino into the Russian River.

The lake and Russian River-side wells supply water to residents and growers from Ukiah to Healdsburg, who are likely facing conservation measures of 50 percent this summer.

Lake Sonoma is low, but not critically so, and will be able to supply the Water Agency's major customers 70 percent of their normal water this summer. It had 182,276 acre-feet of water on Sunday.

Those customers are the cities of Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon, Sonoma, North Marin and Marin Municipal water districts.

The amount of water the Water Agency can release from Lake Sonoma into Dry Creek is restricted by the harm fast-moving water does to fish habitat.

Relying strictly on Lake Sonoma water, the Water Agency will require its customers to implement mandatory conservation measures of 30 percent.

The advisory committee representing those customers is meeting March 3 to discuss rationing plans.

Santa Rosa's water contingency plan includes one voluntary and three mandatory conservation stages, or response levels, depending on the severity of a drought. It remains too early to say what level the city might call for this summer.

Stage 2, the least restrictive of the city's mandatory stages, sets a goal of a 25 percent overall reduction in water use. At that level, each single-family residence would be limited to 65 gallons of water per person per day, plus 2,500 gallons per month for landscaping from May to October.

In contrast, the city's current water rate structure allows for a typical homeowner to use up to 8,000 gallons per month in summer for landscaping. That is in addition to the average volume used by the home in the winter months.

The contingency plan proposes that under mandatory conservation, water users would pay an extra 10 to 30 percent as a shortage use charge. In Stage 2 the residential rate for the first 1,000 gallons might increase by 38 cents to $4.21 from $3.83.

In a severe drought, those who exceed the mandatory allotments could see an extra excess use fee of 100 percent for all water consumed above their allotted ration.

Users who exceed their allotments for three straight months also could be charged for both a water audit and for the installation of certain efficiency fixtures. The city also could install a flow reducing device on the water meter.

Council member Gary Wysocky noted that the contingency plan sets water allotments based on city records of how many residents live in a home.

Senior water planner Jennifer Burke said actual winter water use data will help city staff guard against residents trying to falsely boost a home's per capita allotments.You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.

com.