Recent Rainfall Increases Storage Levels, Rationing Still Likely, Public Meetings Scheduled

Sonoma County Water Agency
PRESS RELEASE For Immediate Release

February 24, 2009

Santa Rosa, CA – The Sonoma County Water Agency is encouraged by the recent rainfall pattern that settled over the North Bay, however, as of February 23 Lake Mendocino’s water storage level still remains low – only 44 percent of capacity – compared to 85 percent last year. Lake Sonoma is currently 80 percent of capacity – compared to 100 percent last year. The Agency has scheduled public meetings to address water storage, water conservation, and possible State Water Resources Control Board action to reduce summertime Russian River flows.

The recent storms brought Santa Rosa’s year-to-date rainfall to approximately 15.54 inches, just 69 percent of normal. Santa Rosa only received approximately .49 inches of rain in January – nearly breaking the record of .39 inches received during the record drought year of 1977.

“We counted on the current level of rainfall when calculating our water storage projections for Lake Mendocino. That projection showed that even if we received seven inches of rain our storage levels would remain low and could result in a 30 percent reduction in water availability for SCWA contractors,” said Pam Jeane, deputy chief engineer of operations.

The recent rainfall did increase storage levels, but releases from those reservoirs into the Russian River, in order to meet state mandated instream flow requirements, may bring storage levels back down to pre-storm levels – pending future rainfall. To address this concern, SCWA is preparing plans to apply for an Urgency Change Petition from the State Water Resources Control Board for reduced Russian River flows. The declaration of a normal, dry or critically dry year is based on Decision 1610, SCWA’s water rights permit issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. If cumulative inflow into Lake Pillsbury on the Eel River increases above 45,000 acre-feet by March 1, then the water year would remain dry and flows would remain at 75 cfs. A dry year was declared on February 1 and flows were reduced to 75 cfs in the upper and lower Russian River. “Reducing water releases from our reservoirs and lowering flows in the Russian River would allow us to save every drop for water supply, recreation and fisheries in the summer and fall,” said Jeane. “We have several meetings scheduled to address this plan with the public.”

The Sonoma County Water Agency will host three public meetings on Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma water storage projections, plans for an Urgency Change Petition for reduced Russian River flows, potential mandatory water conservation and impacts to cities, water agencies, residents, businesses and agricultural communities in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Below are the dates and locations of the public meetings:

Date: Monday, March 16, 2009
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Location: Ukiah City Hall, 300 Seminary Avenue, Ukiah, CA

Date: Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg City Hall, 401 Grove Street, Healdsburg, CA

Date: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Location: Guerneville Veterans Memorial Hall, First and Church Streets, Guerneville, CA

On February 2, SCWA alerted 750,000 residents in portions of Marin, Mendocino and Sonoma counties that their water supply from Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino may be reduced as much as 30 to 50 percent due to a lack of rain over the past two years and current winter. Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma water plays a significant role in providing drinking water, habitat for three fish species listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, water for thousands of acres of premium wine grapes, and an array of recreational opportunities at both lakes and along the Russian River.

More information about these meetings can be found at or contact Brad Sherwood at 707.547.1927 or