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Rooftop rain collection helps rural Sonoma County residents and salmon

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rain on the roof at Karl Andersen’s home in Bodega is more than a sweet sound of the season after four dry years.
It means he has enough water to irrigate his garden and greenhouse through the next fall, and that, in turn, means more water for the coho salmon in Salmon Creek, which meanders through the near-coast hamlet where Alfred Hitchcock famously filmed “The Birds” in 1963.
Rain runs off Andersen’s roof and through pipes into three green plastic storage tanks that hold a total of 15,000 gallons of water, a valuable amenity in a water-scarce corner of Sonoma County with California now officially in a fifth year of drought.
“They are just about ready to overflow for Christmas,” Andersen said last week, noting that December rains nearly topped off the tanks.
Because the state gets most of its rain in the winter and most of it escapes into the Pacific Ocean, the idea of capturing rainwater in tanks and ponds is gaining momentum, including a financial boost from Sonoma County’s two resource conservation districts.
The Sonoma RCD, which covers most of the county, and the Gold Ridge RCD, which covers the west county, are offering funds for the design and construction of water storage systems on rural homes and ranches in five watersheds that support coho salmon.
Read more at: Rooftop rain collection helps rural Sonoma County residents | The Press Democrat

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Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino get runoff boost from recent storms

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Drought-weary North Bay residents are getting an early holiday present from Mother Nature as sporadic December storms have boosted the water level in the region’s largest reservoir and set the stage for bigger gains if rain continues to fall.
Lake Sonoma, the key source of water for 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties, hit 66.9 percent of water storage capacity Thursday, up two-tenths of a point since Dec. 1 — a small but significant increase that marked the reservoir’s first uptick since June 30, when it was 81.7 percent full.
Water managers call that an “inflection point,” and Jay Jasperse, the Sonoma County Water Agency’s chief engineer, said it is “good news,” with better news possibly on the way.
The storms that have dropped just over 5 inches of rain in the Santa Rosa basin since Oct. 1 have essentially saturated the near-surface soil, allowing water to run off into reservoirs, a trend that appears to be happening to California’s largest reservoirs, as well.
“Runoff hasn’t been huge,” Jasperse said, declaring he is “cautiously optimistic” that soggy soil will keep most of the upcoming rain on the surface and draining into reservoirs.
More rain is expected Friday, over the weekend and continuing next week, consulting meteorologist Jan Null said. “A wet pattern is setting up,” he said, with no downpours but “consistent rain through the end of the year.”
Read more at: Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino get runoff boost from | 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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Landowners along four Russian River streams to receive state order on water use

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The informational order applies to all properties, including vineyards and wineries.

Thousands of rural Sonoma County landowners will receive orders, starting this week, to provide state water regulators with details of their use of surface and well water, the latest step in an emergency effort to protect coho salmon and steelhead trout in four watersheds draining into the Russian River.
Letters from the State Water Resources Control Board will be sent to landowners in the Dutch Bill Creek watershed in west county later this week, followed by notices to landowners in the Green Valley, Mark West and Mill Creek watersheds by Sept. 4, board officials said.
At the same time, local landowners, including grape growers, announced Monday voluntary efforts to curtail water use or release more water into the four creeks.
The mandatory reporting will require landowners to submit information — including the location of their water sources and amount of water used monthly — within 30 days or face potential penalties of up to $500 a day, the water board said.
The information is needed to estimate the total demand on the four waterways and determine if additional actions are needed to protect fish imperiled by the state’s prolonged drought, said Erin Ragazzi, environmental program manager for the water board. Mandatory curtailments on water use could be imposed to safeguard juvenile fish that must survive in dwindling pools until the rainy season, officials said.
Stream flows in the four watersheds continue to decline and without more water many, and perhaps all, of the fish will likely perish, Kirsten Macintyre, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, said Monday.
“We’re on the verge of losing an entire year of salmon,” said Gary Helfrich, a Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District board member.
Starting later this week, the district, which delivers drinking water to 350 Camp Meeker homes, plans to begin pumping 2,700 gallons an hour into Dutch Bill Creek, where small pools of water holding fish are growing smaller and warmer every day. Over the next three months, that water — which exceeds the district’s needs for residents — could add about 6 million gallons to the creek, he said.
Read more at: Landowners along four Russian River streams to receive | The Press Democrat

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Don't count on El Niño, rain could miss Northern California altogether

CBS SF-BAY-AREA
Don’t count on El Niño to end California’s historic drought. That’s the warning from one of California’s top water officials.
Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said El Niño could soak Los Angeles and miss Northern California altogether.
“Don’t count on El Niño,” said Marcus. “If we get an El Niño, worry about flooding and property damage, loss of life and all that.”
Marcus worries Northern Californians will back off their record-setting conservation because they keep hearing El Niño is coming to the rescue.
“We’ll take the water if it comes,” said Marcus. “I just don’t want folks to think they don’t have to conserve because El Niño will save us, or to not understand that a strong El Niño has a downside.”
Marquez says conservation remains the key. Fortunately, Californians exceeded the state’s water-saving targets in June. Some customers cut their consumption by more than 40 percent. She predicts the July statistics will be even better “because people get it, and their water agencies are helping them.”
Still, Marquez is optimistic Californians will weather this drought whether El Niño delivers or not. People just need to keep conserving.
“This is not your garden variety drought — not your mother’s drought, not your grandmother’s drought,” warns Marcus. “This is not only the drought of the century, this could be the drought of many millennia.”
Source: Don’t Count On El Niño, Rain Could Miss Northern California Altogether

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Feds OK plan to keep more water in Lake Pillsbury reservoir

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Federal authorities have granted temporary flow reductions aimed at keeping more water in Lake Pillsbury, a small but crucial reservoir high in the Mendocino National Forest that supplies water to the Eel River, Lake Mendocino, the Russian River and the people, farmers and fish dependent on them. The move is aimed at ensuring healthier river flows into the fall.
The changes, implemented Monday by PG&E, which owns the reservoir, will remain in effect until June 18, providing sufficient time for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to collect and review public comments on the changes and make a final determination. A 15-day comment period began Monday. The amount of the flows will vary depending on factors that include how much water is in the lake.
Potter Valley Irrigation District board member Janet Pauli is happy with the decision and optimistic it will remain in place until Dec. 1, as requested. The district is dependent on a water diversion from the Eel River.
“It’s important,” she said of the effort to conserve the water until the next rainy season.
PG&E sought the change largely to maintain at least 10,000 acre feet of water in the reservoir through the fall in order to prevent its banks from sloughing, downstream turbidity and potential blocking of its outlet. There currently is about 38,500 acre-feet of water in the reservoir. An acre-foot is about enough water to fill a football field a foot deep, or supply one household with 893 gallons of water a day for a year.
Environmentalists, water agencies, fisheries officials and farmers hope that holding back water in the reservoir now will mean there will still be water flowing in the fall.
Read more at: Feds OK plan to keep more water in | The Press Democrat

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Water-supply worries over remote Lake Pillsbury

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Water supplies for Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin counties this summer could hinge partly on the dwindling storage in a remote, drought-starved reservoir on the Eel River that serves as a cornerstone to the region’s water system.
Water managers, fisheries biologists, environmentalists and PG&E have their eyes on Lake Pillsbury, a diminishing Lake County reservoir where storage has dropped 30 percent in the past three months, leaving it at less than 55 percent of capacity. Barring a change in water policy, the situation could lead to a string of empty reservoirs by year’s end, officials said Friday.
“We get to a place where we’re threatened with dry lakes,” said Janet Pauli, a Mendocino County grape grower who has long served on a local irrigation district that depends upon the reservoir’s supply.
Lake Pillsbury’s decline most immediately affects about 300 ranchers in Potter Valley, but its repercussions could reach Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, and ripple down the Russian River to eventually touch the 660,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties whose water is drawn from the river by the Sonoma County Water Agency.
“This is an unprecedented situation,” said Grant Davis, the agency’s general manager.
It underscores the need, he said, for communities that depend on Russian River water to boost conservation efforts and develop off-river alternatives, such as recycled wastewater.
Read more via: Shrinking Lake County reservoir prompts North Bay supply | The Press Democrat

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New petition filed with state to conserve Lake Mendocino water

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Water Agency is again seeking reductions in mandated Russian River water flows to try to conserve declining supplies in Lake Mendocino and better manage the precious resource during the persistent drought.
The agency on Tuesday filed a temporary change petition with the state Water Resources Control Board that would reduce the minimum flow between Lake Mendocino and Dry Creek, near Healdsburg, from 185 cubic feet per second to 75 cfs, agency officials said Wednesday. It also would reduce mandated flows between Dry Creek and the ocean from 125 cfs to 85 cfs. The change would go into effect May 1 and last 180 days.
Mendocino County water officials welcomed the request, which is expected to preserve about 6,500 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino, or about one-tenth of its current water supply. An acre-foot is roughly enough to fill a football field with one foot of water or supply one household with 893 gallons of water a day for a year.
The reservoir provides water to residents and farmers between the Redwood Valley and the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.
Read more via New petition filed to conserve Lake Mendocino water | The Press Democrat.

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Despite flush reservoirs, Sonoma County water officials stress need for conservation

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As California confronts its fourth year of drought and the window for any significant spring rainfall closes, the North Coast has more water in storage than a year ago and is in better position than much of the state to meet its supply needs during the traditionally warm, dry months ahead.
Having endured a near-rainless January and a fourth consecutive winter with below-normal rainfall, local residents can thank several drenching days in December and February for bringing season-to-date rainfall to nearly 24 inches — the most in four years and just 8 inches shy of average for this date.
The total was enough to officially downgrade the drought in most of Sonoma County and all of Mendocino County from “extreme” to “severe,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor federal index and map program. With the Sierra Nevada snowpack at a record low, two-thirds of the state remains in a state of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.
That’s not to say, however, that the crisis is over on the North Coast, experts said. The strain on groundwater — the other major local source aside from reservoirs — has managers especially concerned. Pumping, by farmers especially, has outpaced groundwater replenishment from rainfall across much of the state. Sonoma County’s aquifers, while not as heavily tapped as those in the Central Valley, for example, are still under significant pressure. Conservation will continue to be key, water managers said.
“We’re not out of this thing by any stretch of the imagination, that’s for sure,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the Sonoma County Water Agency, wholesale supplier to more than 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Read more via Despite flush reservoirs, Sonoma County water officials stress | The Press Democrat.

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Lake Mendocino shrinking again

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
On the surface, Lake Mendocino appears to have plenty of water, especially when compared with the near-record low levels that turned most of the lake into a mudflat last year. But the lake’s water level already has begun a steady decline that has farmers and water officials concerned it could again shrink to near empty by the end of this fourth year of drought.
“Everybody’s watching it,” Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones said.
Unless significant rain falls this spring, state regulators are likely to repeat last year’s unprecedented curtailment of hundreds of water rights held by farmers and others along the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg.
The state already has curtailed water rights to some Sacramento River tributaries and notified Russian River water users they could be next. State officials also have extended mandated water restrictions for all domestic uses in California.
“I expect they’ll be seeking curtailments again” on the upper Russian River, said Alfred White, a viticulturist and member of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, which holds Mendocino County’s right to 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino.
Lake Mendocino appeared headed for normal water levels following early winter storms, but then the rain tapered off, followed by the end of a regulatory effort to conserve that water.
The water level began dropping in mid-February, just after the expiration of a state-issued variance that temporarily reduced the minimum in-stream flows in the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg. The flows, aimed largely at preserving fish, are managed by the Sonoma County Water Agency, except when there’s a risk of flooding.
Read more via Lake Mendocino shrinking again | The Press Democrat.