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
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.
A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.
The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.
Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.
Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/
Mother of All Groups (MOAG), SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley Project expires in April of 2022. For more information until then: http://pottervalleyproject.org/
A group of studies released last month paint a clearer picture of how Sonoma and Mendocino counties can meet future water needs while reducing environmental impacts in the face of a decision by PG&E to cease operation of an aging hydroelectric power project.
The Potter Valley Project (PVP) is located approximately 15 miles north of the City of Ukiah on the Eel River. The Project’s facilities include two dams, a diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant located in Potter Valley in the headwaters of the Russian River. The 100-year-old project produces little electricity by modern standards and is a net money loser, but Sonoma and Mendocino County water users have grown accustomed to the water diverted by the Project which flows from the Eel River into the Russian River watershed where it is stored in Lake Mendocino – ultimately flowing down the Russian River where it benefits agricultural interests and residents.
This arrangement was put in jeopardy when PG&E announced in 2019 that it would not seek to renew its federal license to operate the Project, which expires in April 2022. In recent weeks, PG&E also notified the public that the Project’s powerhouse had suffered a transformer failure, which eliminated its ability to generate electricity and reduced water diversions into the Russian River. Given PG&E’s goal to dispense with the Project, it is unlikely the powerhouse will be repaired or that the Project will ever function as it once did.
In response to PG&E’s decision to divest from the Project, a diverse group of stakeholders called the Two-Basin Partnership was formed to develop a plan to take over and modify the Project in a way that reflects regional needs and priorities in both basins. Among these priorities are fisheries recovery in the Eel River – one of the few major rivers left in California that has the potential to support abundant, self-sustaining wild populations of salmon and steelhead – and water supply reliability for Russian River water users. The Partnership’s proposed plan included the removal of Scott Dam, restoration of the drained Lake Pillsbury footprint and modifications or the replacement of Cape Horn Dam to maintain a diversion.
Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/russian-river-flows-at-risk-new-studies-show-potential-path-forward-for-po/
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Thousands of property owners in the Russian River watershed will soon be accountable for ensuring their septic systems operate properly through five-year inspections aimed at controlling bacterial contamination from human waste.
The new requirement is part of a controversial plan approved by water quality regulators this week. It was the fourth version of the plan to be considered, and it amends sweeping two-year-old regulations intended to keep human and animal waste out of local waterways.
The plan, approved unanimously by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, affects thousands of property owners in designated priority areas along the main stem and certain tributaries.
Property owners with septic systems within 600 feet of the river or mapped streams or within 200 feet of ephemeral streams in those areas must now have their equipment inspected every five years and take corrective action, if warranted, within 15 years.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/plan-targeting-faulty-septic-systems-in-parts-of-russian-river-watershed-re/
Carol Benfell, SOCONEWS
A Sacramento-based environmental group is suing to stop well drilling in the Russian River watershed until Sonoma County determines if the wells will steal underground water flows from the Russian River or its tributaries.
The lawsuit brought by California Coastkeeper says the county is failing its “public trust” duty to preserve and protect the Russian River for the common good. It asks the court to order a ban on the drilling until the county adopts the appropriate regulations.
“The county has to get squared away on how to keep water flowing in the Russian River,” said Drevet Hunt, an attorney for California Coastkeeper.
The county is taking the issue seriously, said Daniel Virkstis, a county spokesperson.
“The county is taking a hard look at the issues raised in Coastkeeper’s suit and knows they are of significant concern to the community and land owners,” Virkstis said.
There are more than 40,000 rural wells in Sonoma County. About 400 were drilled in the past two years alone, with no examination of their impact on the Russian River watershed, according to county records.
“Over-pumping groundwater has had and continues to cause significant harmful effects on the flow of the Russian River and its tributaries,” said Sean Bothwell, executive director of California Coastkeeper.
“The current drought only makes this problem worse, and restricting surface diversions alone merely drives more groundwater pumping,” Bothwell said.
Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/lawsuit-urges-tighter-regulation-of-well-drilling/article_baf881b4-252b-11ec-9586-b79f43109cdb.html?
Rollie Atkinson, SOCONEWS
The long-term picture for reliable water flows in the Russian River, above Healdsburg to Mendocino County, will remain uncertain for at least two more years, if not longer. The hold up stems from ongoing studies and multi-agency negotiations over the future of the Scott Dam on the Eel River and the century-old Potter Valley Project (PVP) that diverts Eel River water into the Russian River and Lake Mendocino.
On Sept. 2, the five-member Two-Basin Partnership asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a one-year abeyance to continue evaluations of a proposed takeover of the PVP from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) which has announced it will not renew its FERC permit after 2022. The Two-Basin Partnership is seeking removal of the Scott Dam but continued Eel River diversions into the East Fork of the Russian River. The proposal would add 288 river miles of access to salmon and steelhead while assuring an annual diversion of 62,500 acre/feet of water.
The partnership is citing a shortage of funds to operate the PVP and said last week “we have made substantial efforts but have not yet secured public and philanthropic funds for that work.” In May, PG&E declined to fund the project and by statute the utility is barred from seeking a new license.
Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/upper-russian-river-flow-decisions-being-delayed/article_a91725c4-1bbf-11ec-8e56-e7467a39b2f4.html?
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/
Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS
The city of Healdsburg’s draft 2020 Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) is still a work in progress.
The sentiment was echoed by community members and city council members during a recent council workshop and review of the plan where people expressed concern that the plan is a bit too broad and doesn’t adequately consider climate change in its analysis.
There were also concerns centered around the data points used to inform the plan, especially water usage data, which is not segregated into single family home usage and multi family home usage.
“What we’ve assembled is forecasted demand and supply for a 25-year period. This is a really high-level overview of the city’s supply and demand needs,” Healdsburg Utility Director Terry Crowley said during the virtual, Aug. 23 city council work session.
The outlook for Healdsburg’s forecasted demand and supply levels doesn’t look too sunny. If there’s a single dry year the city may find itself in a position similar to what we’re experiencing now and considering population growth, by 2045, water supply would not meet demands particularly during the drier years.
Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_healdsburg/news/healdsburg-residents-call-for-more-specific-urban-water-management-plan/article_46760278-09c7-11ec-bd8b-fb9225707e59.html?
Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT
As Lake Sonoma plummeted to record low levels this summer, the water has warmed enough to threaten the coho salmon raised in the state hatchery at the base of its 319-foot dam northwest of Healdsburg.
With signs of disease appearing in the juvenile coho, an endangered species in the Russian River, federal biologists took an unprecedented step in the local watershed: trucking about 2,000 fish nearly 50 miles south to a student-operated hatchery at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.
“They’re welcome here,” Dan Hubacker, a science teacher and director of the school’s 38-year-old United Anglers program, said after the final load of 92 fish arrived Tuesday afternoon. “We’re here to help.”
The remarkable strategy comes during a severe statewide drought and escalating climate change that has crimped water supplies to North Bay farms and cities and caused rural wells to run dry.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/thousands-of-endangered-coho-salmon-moved-from-lake-sonoma-hatchery-amid-ri/
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.”
Continue reading “Lake Mendocino water levels trigger curtailments for all water rights in Upper Russian River”