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/
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/
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?
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/
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/
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/
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/
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/