Biological opinion could change the outflows of Lake Mendocino

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff Article
Last Updated: 08/11/2008

Lake Mendocino

Summer flows of water out of Lake Mendocino and into the Russian River could be reduced following the release of a biological opinion that could change the way those releases are managed.

Flow volumes in the Russian River, as well as releases from Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma are governed by California State Water Resources Board Decision 1610.

A draft biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service that will be released to interested agencies in September could form a basis for changing those flows which are partially based on the needs of salmonids that live in the Russian River.

According to the draft opinion, reducing those summer releases into the Russian River could be beneficial to fish, as well as maintaining greater water storage in the lakes during the dry summer months.

The report will now be released to interested agencies, including the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Russian River Flood Control District and the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission.

Once the opinion is finalized, an application can be made to the State Water Resources Control Board to modify decision 1610. Any consideration of changes would trigger a report based on the California Environmental Quality Act which would include opportunities for public review and comment

Mendocino County is currently facing its second dry year in a row. As of Friday, storage in the lake was at 56,414 acre feet, less than half of the lakes total storage. Last month, the City of Ukiah asked that residents begin voluntarily conserving water.

Michael Delbar, chairman of the Eel-Russian River Commission and Mendocino County supervisor said the release of the opinion is a critical step in amending the decision and achieving a balance between what is best for salmon and what is best for life and agriculture in Mendocino County.

“I am hopeful that the biological opinion will mean more water in Lake Mendocino later in the summer and fall seasons,” he said.

The release of a draft opinion is another step in the long process of possibly amending a state water decision. The process began in 1997 when Coho and Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Trout were listed as endangered.

In writing the report, NMFS consulted with state and federal agencies such as the California State Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Mendocino and Sonoma counties.