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Sonoma Water petitions state for critical water condition for Russian River as severe drought enters third consecutive year

SONOMA WATER

On Wednesday, May 25 Sonoma Water (Sonoma County Water Agency) filed Temporary Urgency Change Petitions (TUCP) with the State Water Resources Control Board to establish a Critical water supply condition for both the upper and lower Russian River as the drought continues.

Under Critical water supply conditions, the Russian River would have minimum instream flow requirements of 25 cfs and 35 cfs in the upper and lower river, respectively. If approved, this change will allow Sonoma Water to continue the minimum instream flows that the river is currently operating under and preserve water supply in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma.

The current petitions also commit Sonoma Water and its retail customers to a (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) 20-percent reduction in total diversions from the Russian River between July 1 and October 31 compared to the same time period in 2020.

Read more at https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/sonoma-water-petitions-state-for-critical-water-condition-for-russian-river-as-severe-drought-enters-third-consecutive-year

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Endangered coho salmon battered by 3rd year of drought. Here’s why it matters

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s once celebrated salmon populations have long been imperiled by logging, development, gravel mining and other human activities that have eliminated flood plains, channelized river and stream flows, and limited the woody debris and shade that keeps the water cool enough for young fish to survive.

More intense and frequent droughts have further eroded conditions, not just for the coho, but for steelhead and chinook salmon, both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

They were once abundant in the cold, clear water of North Bay creeks and streams. Now, the survival of coho salmon is being challenged like never before.

The coho has a three-year life cycle that takes it from stream to ocean and back to stream to spawn the next generation.

But the changing climate now threatens the species at every life stage, raising new questions about their recovery.

It’s not just a species at stake. At risk is the very resilience of the forest and watershed that evolved around them, fed by marine nutrients brought upstream and deposited inland by adult spawners that, after reproducing, die and decompose.

“Salmon are a keystone species, which means they perform a really important ecosystem service,” said Sarah Nossaman Pierce, a California Sea Grant fisheries biologist with the Russian River Monitoring Program. “Salmon and steelhead (trout) bring marine-based nutrients into the system and essentially feed the forest, plants, birds and wildlife.”

The challenge, she said, is “ecosystem resilience”

“People say, ‘Why do you care about the salmon?’ Unfortunately, if they can’t survive, human beings aren’t far behind,” she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/endangered-coho-salmon-battered-by-3rd-year-of-drought-heres-why-it-matte/

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Despite significant early season rainfall, Russian River watershed diversion curtailments likely to resume in April

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

Curtailments on Russian River watershed diversions will likely resume this April as the outlook for a “miracle March” in rainfall looks grim.

Curtailments for certain water right holders were suspended in October after Sonoma County received significant rainfall, however, flows from the October and December storms are starting to taper off, according to Sam Boland-Brien, a supervising engineer with the California State Water Resource Control Board, Division of Water Rights.

“It’s going to be a really dry summer,” Boland-Brien said.

Boland-Brien and other experts from the California Department of Water Resources, Sonoma Water, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau convened on March 10 for a virtual drought town hall to discuss water supply and drought conditions for the coming summer season.

The March 10 event was the first in a planned series of drought town halls as the county navigates through another year of dry conditions. Future town halls will focus on specific topics such as the Russian River, water quality, river recreation and groundwater conservation.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/despite-significant-early-season-rainfall-russian-river-watershed-diversion-curtailments-likely-to-resume-in-april/article_8659e4b2-a3b0-11ec-965b-cf5841671d2e.html

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Rainstorm in review

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

From bone-dry creek beds to rushing water in just one wet week – it’s been a turbulent ride of literal highs and lows for our watershed in the past seven days.

Last Sunday’s storm was the biggest in our area’s history in terms of volume of water over such a short amount of time. When you look at the numbers it makes quite the splash.

On the Sonoma Developmental Center campus where the Sonoma Ecology Center is located we received a total of 12 inches in 24 hours – when you factor in the 2.75 inches of rain that we measured prior to the Sunday, October 24 weather event we’re clocking in at 14.75 inches for this year. This is more than we received in precipitation all of last winter, all in just one week!

The huge fluctuations in streamflow which you can see represented below by a USGS streamflow graph of Sonoma Creek at the Agua Caliente Bridge aren’t a typical start to the wet season. In a couple of days Sonoma Creek went from running at 0 CFS (cubic feet per second) to well over 6,000 CFS. That’s a big change in a short amount of time.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/rainstorm-review/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

New study confirms less water usage in vineyard can result in better grapes

Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT

But the oversight comes as academic research is showing that less water is better for the grape crop, which was valued at $357 million in 2020 in Sonoma County. It can even improve grape quality. A UC Davis study released earlier this month found that grape growers in our region can use less water on vines without affecting crop yields or quality.

As local farmers well know, Mother Nature can be cruel in administering her gifts.

That was the case on the night of Sept. 11 when the crew over at Emeritus Vineyards in Sebastopol felt raindrops as they picked the pinot noir grapes to go into the winery’s premium wine.

While any rain is appreciated during an exceptional regional drought, the precipitation came an inopportune time for the winery that would wrap up its harvest just a week later, said Riggs Lokka, assistant vineyard manager.

“All of the sudden at 1:15 in the morning, it just dumped,” Lokka recalled.

The episode underscored the conditions vineyard managers are operating under: their industry is facing a prolonged era of water scarcity in which growers don’t want to put one more drop of water on their vines than needed.

Local agriculture’s water usage has come under increasing scrutiny. Three of Sonoma County’s 14 groundwater basins are subject to increased monitoring and regulation. Those areas are mandated to be sustainable within 20 years, which means to have no significant drop in water tables on a year-over-year basis. In addition, state regulators so far this year have ordered more than 1,800 water right holders in the Russian River watershed to stop water diversions unless they obtain waivers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/new-study-confirms-less-water-usage-in-vineyard-can-result-in-better-grapes/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , ,

Coastal grape growers can use less water during drought

Emily C. Dooley, UCDAVIS.EDU

Study finds using less doesn’t compromise quality

    • Study sheds new light on how to mitigate drought effects
    • California coastal grape growers could cut irrigation water by half without affecting yield or quality
    • Replacing 50% of the water lost to evapotranspiration is most beneficial to grapes’ profile and yield

California grape growers in coastal areas can use less water during times of drought and cut irrigation levels without affecting crop yields or quality, according to a new study out of the University of California, Davis.

The findings, published today (Sept. 1) in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, show that vineyards can use 50% of the irrigation water normally used by grape crops without compromising flavor, color and sugar content.

It sheds new light on how vineyards can mitigate drought effects at a time when California is experiencing a severe water shortage and facing more extreme weather brought on by climate change, according to lead author Kaan Kurtural, professor of viticulture and enology and an extension specialist at UC Davis.

“It is a significant finding,” Kurtural said. “We don’t necessarily have to increase the amount of water supplied to grape vines.”

Read more at https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/coastal-grape-growers-can-use-less-water-during-drought

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City of Ukiah plans to defy state curtailment orders to deliver water to the coast

Justine Frederiksen, UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL

The city of Ukiah announced Tuesday that it plans to divert water from the Russian River in order to deliver water to residents of the Mendocino Coast, actions that would be in direct defiance of the curtailment orders imposed by the California State Water Resources Control Board in early August.

“We don’t agree that the water is not there, it is,” said Sean White, director of water and sewer resources for the city of Ukiah, describing the amount of water the city intends to make available to coastal residents as “very small amount” of water that is within the 1.4 cubic feet per second that the city describes as being allowed under its “water right that dates back to 1874.”

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors recently approved allowing qualified haulers to drive water from Ukiah to the coast — specifically the city of Fort Bragg, which coastal communities like the Village of Mendocino typically buy water from — but so far no qualified hauler as been identified as willing and able to perform the deliveries.

“I am sure they will find somebody,” White said Wednesday when asked if the discussions regarding the city providing water to the coast were in fact moot. If a hauler is indeed found and hired, White said the city would likely charge them three cents a gallon for what he estimated would be about 65,000 to 75,000 gallons a day, or about $2,000 worth of water.

Read more at https://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/2021/09/01/city-of-ukiah-plans-to-defy-state-curtailment-orders-to-deliver-water-to-the-coast/

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California enacted a groundwater law 7 years ago. But wells are still drying up — and the threat is spreading

Rachel Becker, CALMATTERS

Called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act or SGMA, the laws gave local groundwater agencies in critically overdrafted basins 26 years — until 2040 — to achieve sustainability and stop impacts of overdraft from worsening.

As drought worsens, there are few, if any, protections in place for California’s depleted groundwater. The new law gave local agencies at least 26 years — until 2040 — to stop the impacts of over-pumping.

Kelly O’Brien’s drinking water well had been in its death throes for days before its pump finally gave out over Memorial Day weekend.

It wasn’t a quiet death at O’Brien’s home in Glenn County, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Spigots rattled. Faucets sputtered. The drinking water turned rusty with sediment. In the end, two houses, three adults, three children, two horses, four dogs and a couple of cats on her five acres of land were all left with no water for their sinks, showers, laundry, troughs and water bowls.

As extreme drought spread across the state, O’Brien feared that the water underneath her property had sunk so low that it was out of the reach of her well.

“The whole time you’re going, ‘Oh please, let it be something else. Let it be a switch. Let it be the pump — let it be anything but being out of water,’” O’Brien said. She worried that she might have to take out a second mortgage to afford the thousands of dollars if her well had to be drilled deeper.

Soon O’Brien learned that other wells were failing around her. She heard about one neighbor to the north, another to the east. The list kept growing: She started a Facebook group for owners of dry wells to share their woes and resources, and it grew to more than 665 members.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/environment/2021/08/california-groundwater-dry/

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , ,

Is it sustainable for Sonoma County to build new homes during an ongoing water crisis?

Ethan Varian, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in 2023, the state wants Sonoma County to approve over 14,500 new homes for residents of all income levels over the following eight years.

Though no final target has been approved, officials in some of the county’s largest cities have made ramping up home construction a priority with the goal of alleviating the region’s shortage of affordable housing.

At the same time, though, the state is also mandating water cutbacks across the region during what is shaping up to be the worst local drought in more than four decades.

The two seemingly competing mandates have some questioning the wisdom of continuing to push growth in the face of a water crisis.

“How are we still approving new development in the midst of a two year drought with no idea what’s going to happen next year?” said David Keller, a Petaluma resident and Bay Area director of Friends of Eel River, a Eureka-based environmental advocacy group.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-bay-qa-is-it-sustainable-for-sonoma-county-to-build-new-homes-durin/

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Lake Mendocino water levels trigger curtailments for all water rights in Upper Russian River

MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Curtailments likely for Lower Russian River within a week

From the State Water Board:

With California experiencing a historic drought amid worsening climate change impacts, the state is responding urgently to address acute water supply shortfalls in affected areas. Water in Lake Mendocino is below minimum storage levels and dropping at an alarming rate, threatening supplies for drinking water and endangered fisheries.

In response, the State Water Resources Control Board issued curtailment orders today to all 861 water right holders in the Upper Russian River. The orders make it illegal to draw or divert water from the Upper Russian River, except as needed to ensure human health and safety.

The State Water Board also released an analysis of the Lower Russian River demonstrating that approximately 222 right holders need to be curtailed to meet demands on the river. The board anticipates issuing orders to these right holders next week.

To maintain flows in the Upper Russian River, water is released from Lake Mendocino, a reservoir north of Ukiah. The supplemental water protects multiple fish species and municipal and agricultural uses, and during drought, accounts for all the water in the river. Currently, about 200 acre-feet is released from the lake into the river each day, enough to meet the needs of 400 households per year.

“The lake is declining much faster than anticipated,” said Erik Ekdahl, Deputy Director for the Division of Water Rights. “If the depletions continue at this rate, the 20,000 acre-feet, end-of-season minimum storage level could be reached almost six weeks ahead of schedule. The lake could be entirely empty by the end of the year, putting both people and wildlife in harm’s way.”
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