Unprecedented drought conditions have forced state water regulators to take the drastic step of officially suspending water rights along the Russian River.
Sam Boland-Brien with the state water board said conditions have continued to worsen in the Russian River watershed and the orders formally direct those who have longtime permission to divert water from the Russian River to stop, because there is no longer enough water to support their water right.
This won’t come as a surprise to many. A letter went out in May telling rights holders this day would come, and an official notice went out Monday to holders along the upper Russian River, between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg. Those with rights along the lower Russian could be curtailed as early as next week.
"The important to note is that people will still be able to use the water that they’ve stored," Boland-Brien said. "Those that have stored water in reservoirs can still draw on that water, because that’s not draining the river this year.”
Among those rights holders with stored water is the Sonoma County Water Agency, which supplies water to more than 600,000 residents in Sonoma County and parts of Marin.
“The Sonoma County water agency, they have water stored in Lake Sonoma," Boland-Brien said. "And that’s what they will be relying on during this dry period."
But curtailments are only part of the effort. There must also be conservation.
“Storage at Lake Sonoma is the lowest it’s ever been," he said. "And while there is some storage to get through 2022, if this drought continues, it's going to be in really tough times by the end of 2022.”
Lake Mendocino is in worse shape and losing up to 180 acre feet per day.
Boland-Brien said based on projections and the current rate of drawdown, “Lake Mendocino could be empty by the beginning of December.”
And since Lake Mendocino supports water flow along some sixty miles of the Russian River, that could be catastrophic for agriculture, communities, and endangered fisheries. But the orders are meant to keep the upper Russian River from drying out completely.