North Coast water woes reflected in dwindling reservoirs (w/video)
California turned the page this week on the fourth-driest water year on record, an occasion marked on the North Coast by dwindling reservoir supplies and restrictions on water use.
Without normal or near-normal rainfall in coming months, water managers warn that the situation could get much worse, resulting in stricter rationing and tighter limits on water supplies for agricultural users.
“It’s safe to assume that we are preparing for the worst-case scenario, which would be another dry winter,” said Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency.
In Healdsburg, city leaders already are debating whether to begin issuing citations for the heaviest water users, according to Mayor Jim Wood, who expressed dismay at the number of green lawns he said he sees when he drives around town.
“I hate to do it. I don’t want to do it. But people have to understand this is a big deal,” Wood said of possible fines.
The North Coast has managed to avoid the more severe water restrictions implemented in areas of the state hit hardest by the drought. But that could change if this winter brings another paltry dose of precipitation. This weekend’s forecast calling for scorching heat doesn’t help matters.
Lake Mendocino is only 27 percent full, or nearly three-quarters empty. The lake on Wednesday was at the third-lowest level for that date since 1958. As a result, upper Russian River communities have implemented mandatory conservation orders and in-stream flow requirements have been cut to 50 cubic feet per second, compared with 75 cfs earlier this year, according to Sherwood.
“It’s just really looking terrible out there right now,” said Sean White, general manager of the Russian River Flood Control District.
Lake Mendocino held 30,074 acre-feet of water Wednesday, about half of the historical average for storage at this time of year. Still, that level was well above the record low of 13,200 acre-feet in 1977, which generally is thought of as the worst drought year on the North Coast to date.
Lake Sonoma was faring better Wednesday, at 60 percent of capacity. But that level was the fifth-lowest for that date since 1983. The region’s largest reservoir, Lake Sonoma holds 245,000 acre-feet of water. This week it was at 147,673 acre-feet, and if it reaches 100,000 acre-feet, mandatory 30 percent cuts for Water Agency contractors kick in, Sherwood said.
Lake Sonoma, which opened in 1982, provides water to 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Many North Coast residents already have cut their water use way back to help with conservation efforts. Sherwood said per-capita water use for the month of August for the Water Agency and its customers was down 41 percent compared with a 10-year baseline for that month, excluding drought years.
Another year of drought conditions could spur additional water reductions.
At least seven Sonoma County cities, along with the Valley of the Moon Water District, have required residents to cut use by 20 percent. They include the cities of Healdsburg, Windsor, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sonoma.
In Mendocino County, the city of Ukiah enacted mandatory water restrictions that, among other things, limit residential irrigation to no more than every other day. Willits asks residents to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent. The Redwood Valley County Water District north of Ukiah limits residents to 50 gallons of water per day.