The water level in Lake Mendocino has fallen below 20,000 acre feet (AF) despite state orders preventing hundreds of water rights holders from drawing from the Russian River.
A minimum storage goal of 20,000 AF by Oct. 1, 2021 was recommended by the Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) in the hopes of providing an adequate carry-over water supply entering the 2021-22 fall-winter rainy season.
Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Board of Directors Chair Lynda Hopkins said, “We were hopeful that continued conservation among water users in the Russian River watershed could keep us above that conservation goal in Lake Mendocino. Unfortunately, the water-saving efforts in the Upper Russian River have not been enough, even with state action being taken to curtail water rights. We really urge everyone to step up their water saving efforts. The only way we’re going to get through this drought is if we all do our part.”
Water managers fear that as water levels drop in Lake Mendocino reservoir releases will not be able to meet minimum stream flows for fisheries and meet the human health and safety needs of downstream municipal users. In addition, there is concern that as the reservoir levels drop there may be a decline in water quality.
Sonoma Water, which provides drinking water to more than 600,000 customers, has reduced its diversions from the Russian River by more than 20%.
Lake Mendocino has dropped below 20,000 acre feet only once before, in 1977.