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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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Healdsburg residents call for more specific Urban Water Management Plan

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?

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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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Russian River on the brink: Lifeblood of North Coast imperiled by deepening drought

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two winters ago, the Russian River was a swollen, chocolate-brown mass, full from bank to bank as it surged toward the Pacific Ocean, gathering runoff from sodden hillsides and frothing creeks amid torrential rains.

The floods of late February 2019 were the worst in two decades. They sent roiling water into communities along the river’s lower reaches in Sonoma County. Thousands of residents were displaced, restaurants were damaged and inns shuttered mere months before the summer tourist season. The losses would amount to tens of millions of dollars.

Now, shriveled by another historic drought, the same river cuts a languid, narrow path through a parched landscape — a slender ribbon of water stretching from inland Mendocino County to Healdsburg, where it is widened with a shot of cool reservoir water from Dry Creek before winding west to the sea.

The lifeblood of Sonoma, Mendocino and northern Marin counties, the river provides drinking water for more than 600,000 people. It is a refuge for imperiled fish and supports a thriving recreational economy. Much of the region’s $12-plus billion wine industry wouldn’t be here without it.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-on-the-brink-lifeblood-of-north-coast-imperiled-by-deepening/

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Limbo for Mendocino County water transfer clouds outlook for key Russian River source

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s sprawling, manmade delivery system for drinking and irrigation water has for decades relied on a share of the flow in the Eel River, miles to the north in Lake County.

In years past, up to 22 million gallons have been siphoned from the Eel through a system of pumps, pipes and reservoirs and sent south into the East Fork of the Russian River through a mile-and-a-half tunnel blasted into a mountain more than a century ago.

But the future of that cog in the Russian River machine, long seen as critical for farmers, ranchers and rural residents reliant on the river in Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County, is now in limbo.

The water transfer also has generated hydroelectricity as it passed through a small powerhouse in rural Potter Valley and on into Lake Mendocino near Ukiah.

Efforts by federal fisheries regulators to bolster declining salmon and steelhead runs in the Eel River have slashed those diversions in half since 2007. And the drought cut those diversions by another fifth this year, as water regulators seek to maintain supplies in Lake Pillsbury, formed by a dam across the Eel River.

They may be eliminated permanently in the future as a result of PG&E’s decision not to renew its license for the 113-year-old Potter Valley powerhouse when it expires next year, leaving the state of all water transfers from the Eel River uncertain.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/limbo-for-mendocino-county-water-transfer-clouds-outlook-for-key-russian-ri/

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Lower Russian River flows to be halved under state order to preserve stored supplies

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County water agency received permission Monday to immediately cut stream flows in the lower Russian River by more than half in an effort to conserve water stored in Lake Sonoma.

Instream flows in the upper river, above Dry Creek, which is fed by releases from Lake Sonoma, already are being maintained at a very low threshold to keep as much water as possible in Lake Mendocino, the smaller of the two reservoirs.

The state decision means Sonoma Water, the county agency, and its contractors — the cities of Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Petaluma and Cotati, and the Valley of the Moon, Marin Municipal and North Marin water districts — will have to use 20% less water from the Russian River, as well.

Both lakes Sonoma and Mendocino reservoirs are their lowest levels ever for this early in the year, with the warmest, driest months still ahead.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/lower-russian-river-flows-to-be-halved-under-state-order-to-preserve-stored/

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State water regulators to consider emergency limits on as many as 2,400 Russian River users

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are considering sweeping drought emergency rules that would let them suspend the diversion of water from the Russian River by as many as 2,400 homes, businesses, municipal agencies and other users. The proposal, which would cover both the upper and lower parts of the watershed, could greatly extend the list of more than 900 water suppliers, agricultural producers and property owners already notified there has been too little rainfall for them to exercise their water rights this year.

The draft regulation goes before the state water board next Tuesday and could account for substantial monthly savings, depending when diversions are limited, Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the state water board’s Division of Water Rights, said during a virtual Sonoma County Town Hall on the drought last week.

Those affected would include residents of both Sonoma and Mendocino counties, a region singled out by Gov. Gavin Newsom in April for being at particular risk of water shortage after two dry years because of its dependence on a reservoir system subject to rapid depletion in the absence of regular rainfall.

With storage in Lake Mendocino, the smaller of the reservoirs, diminishing by the day, state regulators are hoping they can slow its consumption by reserving withdrawals for those with the oldest, most senior water claims and, potentially, curtailing even them.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-water-regulators-to-consider-emergency-limits-on-at-least-1600-russi/

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Op-Ed: There is no drought

Editorial Board, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The years of steady and predictable water flow are over, and there is no sign of them coming back in our lifetimes. This is it. We have to build, and grow, and legislate, and consume for the world as it is, not as we may remember it.

If ‘drought’ means a period of dry years followed by a return to the norm, California is not in drought. The current climate is the norm.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency last month in Sonoma and Mendocino counties because of severe drop-offs in the winter rains that once had been counted on to fill reservoirs in the Russian River watershed, north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Like most other California reservoirs, those human-made lakes were built in the 20th century, an unusually wet period when compared with more than a thousand years of climate records reconstructed from studies of ancient tree rings and geological evidence.

The two formerly verdant counties were among the state’s hardest-hit regions in last year’s record-setting wildfire season that included the August Complex fires, which erupted not just because of years of intensifying summer heat drying out the trees and the ground beneath them but also, ironically, because of fierce summer storms and accompanying lightning. The August Complex followed the 2019 Kincade fire, which burned much of Sonoma County, and the 2018 Mendocino Complex fires, which at the time made up the state’s largest recorded wildfire incident. Before that was the 2017 Tubbs fire, which destroyed significant portions of Santa Rosa — following California’s wettest year on record. So much rain fell that winter that the ground could not absorb it all, yet the summer was so hot that it desiccated the forests.

Average out the sporadic flood years with the succession of dry ones and the numbers will tell you that California is getting as much precipitation as ever. There is no drought — not if drought means a decrease in total rainfall.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-05-06/editorial-there-is-no-drought

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North Bay braces for water cuts with reservoirs at record lows after second dry winter

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Anyone paying attention to the season’s paltry rainfall has seen it coming for some time, but recent pronouncements about the state of the region’s water supply make it plain: hard times lie ahead.

Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino are both at their lowest levels ever for this time of year — after two consecutive years in which the combined rainfall totals barely measure up to a single average year.

State water regulators have issued letters notifying more than 700 vineyards, domestic suppliers, farmers and other entities with water rights for the Russian River that their diversions may be curtailed.

Dairy farmers in southern Sonoma County already are trucking thousands of gallons a day to their parched lands, and more than a billion gallons of recycled wastewater normally delivered each year to other agricultural users is simply unavailable, owing to low rainfall and diminished production.

And though it’s only the beginning of April, with months still to go before summer even starts, officials say the overall picture suggests mandated conservation measures aren’t so much a matter of if, but when.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-bay-braces-for-water-cuts-with-reservoirs-at-record-lows-after-second/

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Op-Ed: New priorities needed for California’s next drought

Darius Waiters and Brandon Dawson, CALMATTERS

As California faces another dry year, the state will have to decide whether to allow the violation of water quality standards in the Delta.

A series of key decisions await Gov. Gavin Newsom as the state heads back into a potential drought.

So this seems like the right moment to review what happened last time: Water was prioritized for big agriculture at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, endangered species and California communities. The State Water Board, in a review of the drought of 2014-15, found operations “not sustainable.”

We hope Newsom will prevent a repeat of that disaster by setting new priorities for a prolonged drought: Protecting the human right to water for drinking and sanitation, protecting public health for those who live adjacent to our rivers, and protecting endangered species.

Sadly, the operation plans for the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project are starting to look like a repeat of 2014 and 2015. The projects plan to deliver 5 million acre-feet of water – 1 million from the SWP and 4 million from the CVP – from the Delta largely to corporate agribusinesses, regardless of the impacts to the Delta, people, fish and wildlife.

We are now hearing that the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation may petition the State Water Resources Control Board to waive water quality standards in the Delta again, as they did in 2014 and 2015.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/commentary/my-turn/2021/03/new-priorities-needed-for-californias-next-drought/