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Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With two Russian River reservoirs brimful of runoff from a prolonged storm, the North Bay region is nearing an end to its multi-year drought, a water management official said Friday.
“It looks like a March miracle,” said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which supplies water to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. “Our water supply system hasn’t looked this good in more than three years.”
Lake Sonoma west of Healdsburg, the region’s largest reservoir, was at 107 percent of capacity for this time of year, and Lake Mendocino, the far smaller reservoir near Ukiah, was at 117 percent, with both lakes the fullest they have been in early March since 2012.
The atmospheric river that delivered the latest rainfall offered not only significant drought relief, but also relented Friday afternoon, offsetting flood forecasts and giving the ground a chance to absorb water, Sherwood said.
The Russian River water system is independent from the network of major reservoirs and canals that serve most of California, which remains under mandatory water conservation measures.
Read more at: Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

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Lake Mendocino nears winter capacity; Lake Sonoma close behind

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Recent rainstorms have swelled Lake Mendocino, reopening the reservoir to motor boats for the first time since August, swallowing islands raised by the drought and bringing fresh hope to ranchers and water officials.
By Thursday afternoon, the lake had reached 98 percent of capacity for this time of the year, when some space is reserved in the reservoir to help with flood prevention.
Once the level hits 100 percent, dam managers must increase releases to keep it at that level, unless they are given permission to hold back additional supplies.
In March, the reservoir’s storage capacity will rise from 68,400 acre-feet to about 110,000 acre-feet, a change aimed at maintaining adequate water supplies throughout the dry season for people, fish and agriculture along the Russian River. The key to recovery from the drought is filling the reservoir to its maximum capacity in the spring.
Read more at: Lake Mendocino nears winter capacity; Lake Sonoma close | The Press Democrat

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El Niño forecast boosts hopes for wet season

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Battered by a historic drought that has fed raging wildfires, shrunk reservoirs and prompted water curtailments and conservation mandates, Californians are yearning for relief.
It can only come from the skies, and now, with winter on its way, the question on the minds of more than 38 million Golden State residents is: Can El Niño, the weather phenomenon named for the Christ child, deliver meteorological salvation across the land, from the arid south to the normally damp north?
For the North Bay, where that answer is still highly anticipated, a shortfall on the wet forecast may not portend an immediately deepening disaster, as it could for much of the rest of the state.
The region draws its water from the Russian River and local wells, independent from the Sierra Nevada snowpack — the lowest in recorded history last winter — and the state’s major reservoirs, now 70 percent to 90 percent empty.
The North Bay’s major reservoir, Lake Sonoma, with a two-to-three-year supply when full, remains at more than 70 percent of its capacity.
Just an average amount of rainfall over the next six months in Santa Rosa — about 36 inches — would go a long way toward topping off that supply and other local reservoirs, significantly easing drought in the region, if not ending it, said managers of the Sonoma County Water Agency, the primary source of water for 600,000 North Bay customers.
Read more at: El Niño forecast boosts hopes for wet season | The Press Democrat

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Feds OK extra water storage at rising Lake Mendocino

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Russian River water managers and consumers they serve in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties got a break Wednesday from the prospect of watching precious water flow to the ocean from the rapidly filling Lake Mendocino reservoir near Ukiah.
Raised to more than 97 percent of storage capacity by last weekend’s deluge, the reservoir was on the verge of crossing a threshold that would require the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates Lake Mendocino’s Coyote Dam, to begin releasing water in an effort to preserve the reservoir’s ability to prevent flooding in the event of another major storm.
The last time that happened was in December 2012, when a multi-day downpour brought the reservoir to the 94,000-acre-foot level, cutting deeply into the flood protection pool that tops out at 116,500 acre-feet.
Unfortunately, there were no major storms for the next five months, deepening a statewide drought now entering its fourth year.
read more via Feds OK extra storage at rising Lake Mendocino | The Press Democrat.

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Changes to water releases from Lake Mendocino helping

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A change in releases at Lake Mendocino is helping water suppliers hold back precious reserves as the region’s dry spell wears on and threatens to cut historically low reservoir stores to critical levels.
The new protocol could prevent as much as 5,000 acre feet of water — one-sixth of Lake Mendocino’s current supply — from slipping down the Russian River before the end of November, an official with the Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District said.
“Five thousand acre feet is going to be about what we used for the entire year this year, so it’s a meaningful amount for us,” the district’s general manager, Sean White, said. “It’s our whole annual budget.”
Savings projections supplied by the Sonoma County Water Agency were closer to 3,600 acre feet, with the potential for salmon migrating upstream triggering additional releases after Nov. 1.
via Changes to water releases from Lake Mendocino helping | The Press Democrat.

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Mendocino County seeking changes at Coyote Dam

Tiffany Revelle, UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is getting ready to send a letter to Congressman Jared Huffman supporting a bill that would compel the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rethink the way it runs the Coyote Valley Dam, and how much water can be stored in Lake Mendocino throughout the year.

Huffman last month introduced House of Representatives Bill 3988, called the Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act, which would let local sponsors of any of the Corps’ reservoir projects throughout the nation ask the Corps to find better ways to operate the reservoir in question. The bill would require the Corps to respond and give it three years to do a study.

The ACOE runs the Coyote Valley Dam during flood control season (November through April) using a formula and graph drawn in 1959. Local officials, including the Board of Supervisors, say that doesn’t allow Lake Mendocino to store enough water to ensure a steady supply the rest of the year, because the Corps uses that decades-old rule curve to instead release over the dam and down the Russian River any water in the lake that rises above a set flood control limit.

via Mendocino County seeking changes at Coyote Dam – Ukiah Daily Journal.

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Mandatory Water Conservation is Needed NOW

Brenda Adelman, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Why must a threatened water crisis be necessary for agencies to get serious about mandatory water conservation?  As this article is written, less than two weeks remain in 2013 and Santa Rosa has experienced barely more than 8” of rain for the entire year, compared to the usual average of 32”.  West County averages are generally almost double that amount, yet area trends are comparable as indicated by extremely low reservoir levels.

According to San Francisco Chronicle article on Nov. 10, 2013,  entitled “California on course for driest year on record”,  Arthur Hinojosa, chief of hydrology and flood operation for the California Department of Water Resources said that all state reservoirs were well below their carrying capacity.  “Generally speaking , it has been dry across the state, and it has been remarkably dry where …. the bulk of the water storage is,” he said and,  “…most operators plan on multiyear dry years, but nobody plans on as dry as we’ve seen.”

Reservoir levels going down…

According to a newsletter released by the Sonoma County Water Agency SCWA in mid-December, Lake Mendocino is critically low at 29,020 acre feet AF compared to water supply pool of 68,400 AF.  Last year at this time, December rains had been so intense that the Army Corps of Engineers released about 24,000 AF from Coyote Dam because reservoir levels were so high that dam safety was a concern.  No one could predict at that point the total lack of precipitation for the remaining winter and spring as we cannot now predict when rain will return.

via Mandatory Water Conservation is Needed NOW.

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Water officials cut Russian River releases from Lake Mendocino

Sean Scully, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Water Agency has cut flows in the Russian River by about 30 percent since Tuesday in an effort to preserve dwindling supplies in Lake Mendocino.

State regulators granted the agency permission to cut flows late Tuesday and the agency promptly dropped from releasing about 100 cubic feet per second at the dam, or about 748 gallons, to 90. On Thursday, the agency dropped that number down to 70 cfs, and could go lower this week or next.

“We don’t like to take it down really quickly,” agency Assistant General Manager Pam Jeane said.

That means flows in the river downstream could fall to below 55 cfs at its lowest point by early next week. During a normal rain year, the agency would need to keep that flow at around 150 cfs at the lowest point; even on a moderately dry year, it can’t cut the flow lower than 75 cfs.

But as of Thursday morning, the reservoir had just 26,280 acre feet of water in reserve, about 8.6 billion gallons, or just 38.7 percent of its capacity.

The region is coming out of a record dry year, with just 7.67 inches of rain falling in the upper reaches of the Russian River, as measured at Ukiah; the area usually sees at least 34 inches of rain.

via Water officials cut Russian River releases from Lake Mendocino | The Press Democrat.