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Russian River Water Users Ordered to Divert 15% Less

BEN BROWN The Daily Journal
June 2007

Water users along the Russian River watershed will need to start practicing “mandatory conservation” following Thursday’s announcement by the State Water Resources Control Board that users must reduce the amount of water they take from the river by 15 percent.

The order calls for water diversions along the Russian River to be reduced by 15 percent by July 1 in order to guarantee that there will be water available for fisheries, recreational opportunities and for the 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties who depend on the Russian River for water.

“In turn, we will be asking our water contractors and agricultural community to practice mandatory conservation,” said Brad Sherwood, programs specialist for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Sherwood said the SCWA will be working with water contractors and the business and agricultural communities in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties to implement conservation measures.

The conservation measures will remain in place through Oct. 28.

It is not clear what form “mandatory conservation” will take along the Russian River. Individual contractors will have to come up with their own plans, Sherwood said.

“We can’t enforce mandatory water conservation,” he said. “It will be different for each city.”

In April, the SCWA asked consumers to begin practicing voluntary conservation after projections predicted that levels in Lake Mendocino might drop as low as 8,000 acre-feet, the lowest since the dam was built.

Through voluntary conservation, the city of Rohnert Park has already reduced its water need by 12 percent.

“The 15 percent is attainable,” Sherwood said.

The SCWA will also be working with water consumers in Mendocino County. Sherwood said 50 percent of the water taken from the Russian River is used by people in Mendocino County.

“The state board wants us working with every agency that takes water out of the Russian River,” Sherwood said.

Roland Sanford, general manager for the Mendocino County Water Agency, said Mendocino County water users will meet with the SCWA next week.

“To the extent that we can cooperate, we will,” Sanford said.

Sanford admitted it might seem strange to some that SCWA will be telling people in Mendocino County how to manage their water.

“They’re in an odd position,” he said.

A combination of a light rain season and a reduction of flows through the Potter Valley Project is being blamed for the low lake levels. As of Wednesday, Lake Mendocino was at 65,661 acre-feet. The lake has a maximum storage of 122,500 acre-feet.