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Monday, June 8, 2009

Water Board Sets and Loosens Limits

State Water Resources Control Board Confirms
25 Percent Reduction in Water Diversions, Loosens Ban on Commercial Turf Irrigation

The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued a revised order responding to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s Temporary Urgency Change Petition for reduced Russian River flows. The new order modifies an April 10, 2009 order and responds to public concerns and to slightly improved water storage conditions resulting from an early May storm.

The modified order still requires a 25 percent reduction in the amount of water SCWA diverts from the Russian River, but responds to public concerns regarding reducing river flows prior to the July 4 weekend. Lower flows in the river won’t take effect until July 6, instead of the July 1 date in the original order.

“I’m pleased the state board listened to Russian River businesses and made the sensible decision to reduce flows after the July 4 weekend, when the river is enjoyed by thousands of local and out-of-town visitors,” said Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) Director Efren Carrillo. “The state board also spelled out a process for addressing any problems that might arise if flows have to be significantly reduced.”

If minimum instream flow requirements are reduced to “critically dry year” criteria, the state order requires SCWA to coordinate weekly conference calls with staff from the SWRCB water rights division, National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish and Game and North Coast Regional Water Board to discuss water quality, temperature and fisheries monitoring. If problems are detected, agency personnel can recommend to the state Deputy Director for Water Rights actions to alleviate concerns regarding water quality, public health or fishery conditions.

The revised order also changes the measurement used to determine the level of flows in the river. The April 10 order based river flows on the amount of water flowing into Lake Mendocino. The new order bases river flows on the amount of water stored in the lake. If storage levels are at or above 65,630 acre feet on July 1, minimum flows in the Russian River starting on July 6 will be equivalent to “dry year” flows of 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Healdsburg and 85 cfs at Hacienda Bridge. There is approximately 57,000 acre feet in Lake Mendocino currently.

“We caught a lucky break with the weather in May. We believe that residents and farmers responded by turning down their irrigation and turning off their sprinklers. As a result, the water levels in Lake Mendocino actually increased a little,” said SCWA director Shirlee Zane. “Yet even with this increase, we should all continue our efforts to significantly cut back on water use."

Sonoma County is not alone. In February, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called drought related state emergency. In response, the Association of California Water Agencies launched the “Save Our Water” campaign, providing practical tips to Californians on how to cut water use. Go to for more information.

The modified order includes the following requirements:

Commercial Turf Irrigation Reductions: The new order gives businesses the option of significantly reducing the amount of water used to irrigate commercial turf, rather than the outright ban required in the April 10 order. The new order provides a formula that businesses must use to determine the amount of water that can be applied to overall landscape areas including, lawns, median strips and other turf that is planted purely for ornamental purposes. This irrigation regime is enough to keep turf alive, but will require landscapers to keep a tight control on how much water is applied.

The amount (in gallons) is calculated by taking the square footage of the landscaped area, multiplying it by a conversion factor (0.62 gallons per square foot), then multiplying it by 0.75, and then multiplying it by the "ETO" or "reference evapotranspiration" (a standard calculation of the quantity of water transpired by a reference crop and evaporated from adjacent soil surfaces as measured by the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) of weather stations), which varies by day.

Example: Assuming an office building in west Santa Rosa had 10,000 square feet of landscaped area, and wanted to know what it's "water budget" was for May, it would compute it as follows:

10,000 square feet x 0.62 x 0.75 x 4.73 (the ETO for westside Santa Rosa in May, as found at ) = 21,994 gallons of water on commercial turf during May

Upper Russian River Flows: (From confluence with the East Fork of the Russian River to its confluence with Dry Creek)

• From April 6, 2009 through July 5, 2009, minimum instream flow shall remain at or above 75 cubic feet per second.

• From July 6 through October 2, 2009, minimum instream flow shall remain at or above 75 cfs, if Lake Mendocino storage is equal or greater than 65,630 acre-feet on July 1, 2009.

• From July 6 through October 2, 2009, minimum instream flow shall remain at or above 25 cfs, if Lake Mendocino storage is less than 65,630 acre-feet.

• Instream flow at the USGS gages at both Hopland and Healdsburg on the Russian River shall be increased to 125 cfs, after a cumulative seasonal total of 200 adult Chinook salmon move upstream past the SCWA Mirabel inflatable dam, unless otherwise directed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Fish and Game. A lag time of three to seven days for the higher flows to reach Healdsburg is appropriate.

Lower Russian River Flows: (From its confluence with Dry Creek to the Pacific Ocean)

• From April 6, 2009 through July 5, 2009, minimum instream flow shall remain at or above 85 cfs.

• From July 6 through October 2, 2009, minimum instream flow shall remain at or above 85 cfs, if Lake Mendocino storage is equal to or greater than 65,630 acre-feet on July 1, 2009.

• From July 6 through October 2, 2009, minimum instream flow shall remain at our above 35 cfs, if Lake Mendocino storage is less than 65,630 acre-feet.

25 Percent Reduction in Diversions from Russian River: The order requires SCWA to make a 25 percent reduction in diversions from the Russian River to their service area from June 15, 2009 until the expiration of the Order – October 2, 2009. The 25 percent reduction is based on the actual diversion in 2004.

25 Percent Water Conservation for Sonoma County and Mendocino County Russian River Water Users: The April 10 order required SCWA to submit a plan to SWRCB to obtain cooperation and participation of agricultural and municipal Russian River water users to reach a water conservation goal of 25 percent in Sonoma County and 50 percent in Mendocino County for the period of April 6 until October 2, 2009. SCWA submitted the plan on May 6.

About Lake Mendocino:
Lake Mendocino provides water storage for municipalities and agriculture in the upper Russian River and sustains flows in the upper Russian River during the fall - a critical time of the annual chinook salmon migration. SCWA engineers projected that water levels in Lake Mendocino would drop to levels lower than 10,000 acre-feet which would be the lowest levels recorded since the lake was first constructed in 1959. The reduced flow rates allow SCWA to retain additional water storage in Lake Mendocino and improve the likelihood that adequate water supply will be available in the fall to provide chinook salmon expected to return to the river to spawn.

SCWA is the local sponsor for the federal water projects at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma and has authority to regulate water supply-related releases from these reservoirs to meet the needs of more than 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties. A decision by SWRCB in 1986 requires SCWA to release sufficient water from the reservoirs to maintain flows rates above designated minimum values at certain points along the Russian River.

SWRCB Order and SCWA Petition Information: A copy of the SWRCB Order and SCWA Temporary Urgency Change Petition can be found on SCWA’s Web site

Water Conservation Information: A list of water conservation tips, programs and rebates are available at Additional information can be found at

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