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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Russian River Summer Flows Reduced for Fish

Russian River Summer Flows Modified
by Requirements of Biological Opinion

PUBLIC MEETINGS (see below for locations & dates)
Scheduled to Discuss Changes

On Monday, May 24 the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued an order lowering minimum flows in the Russian River this summer. The SWRCB order responds to a Temporary Urgency Change Petition for reduced flows that was filed in April by the Sonoma County Water Agency.

A Biological Opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service in September 2008 requires the Agency to annually ask the state board to reduce flows in the river. Slowing the velocity of water during the summer improves conditions for young steelhead that live in the Russian River before migrating to the ocean.

“The state board order is good news. Not only does it help threatened fish, but by allowing the Water Agency to comply with the Biological Opinion, it helps secure the water supply for 600,000 residents,” said Sonoma County Water Agency Director Shirlee Zane.

As required by the Biological Opinion, the order requires minimum flows of 125 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the river above Dry Creek and 70 to 85 cfs in the lower river. While the order is in effect from May 25 to October 15, there will be little noticeable decrease in immediate flows.

“With so much water coming into the river from recent storms, the Water Agency isn’t currently controlling the majority of the flow,” said Pam Jeane, assistant general manager of operations for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

As was done last year when it issued an order for lower flows, the state board included several requirements, including water quality and fisheries monitoring and water conservation measures.

“The state board order makes it clear that Sonoma and Mendocino county residents must make conservation part of our lifestyle,” said Water Agency Director Efren Carrillo. “People need to make permanent changes, like replacing thirsty lawns with low-water plants, so that when the dry years return we’ll be prepared.”

Three public meetings are scheduled to discuss this summer’s flow changes and the state board order:

Wednesday, June 2, 6:30-8:00pm
Healdsburg Community Center
1557 Healdsburg Avenue

Thursday, June 3, 6:30-8:00pm
Ukiah City Hall
300 Seminary Ave

Wednesday, June 9, 6:30-8:00pm
Guerneville Odd Fellows Hall
16219 First Street

Specific conditions of the order include:

Fisheries and Water Quality –The order requires monitoring of threatened steelhead and Chinook salmon and endangered coho salmon and weekly consultations with California Department of Fish and Game and National Marine Fisheries Service regarding potential fishery issues. A water quality monitoring plan must be prepared.

Water Management -- The order requires the agency to work with agricultural Russian River water users to better anticipate periods of high water demand. The state board also requires the Water Agency to work with its customers (Santa Rosa, Windsor, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sonoma, Valley of the Moon Water District and North Marin Water District) to conjunctively manage surface and groundwater resources, with an emphasis on conserving and replenishing groundwater resources.

Conservation – The order requires preparation of a report that spells out water conservation efforts in areas served by the Water Agency and by all jurisdictions that receive water from Lake Mendocino. In addition, cities and water districts served by the Water Agency must require their dedicated irrigation customers be assigned a water budget designed to achieve a maximum applied water allowance of 60 percent evapotranspiration (known as ETo). NOTE: A water budget is the amount of water a site should be using, based on the landscaped area and historical weather factors. ETo refers to the reference evapotranspiration – the amount of water that evaporates and transpires from a square foot of grass; 60 percent ETo means the landscape is provided 60 percent of the water that is needed for grass to thrive and grow.

About Russian River Flows and the Biological Opinion: The Water Agency is the local sponsor for the federal water projects at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma and has responsibility to regulate water supply-related releases from these reservoirs to meet the needs of more than 600,000 people in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. A decision by SWRCB in 1986 (known as Decision 1610) requires the Water Agency to release sufficient water from the reservoirs to maintain flow rates above designated minimum values at certain points along the Russian River. The values change depending on whether the hydrologic year is deemed “normal”, “dry” or “critically dry.”

The Biological Opinion requires the Water Agency to ask the SWRCB to permanently change the minimum flow levels established in D1610. Depending on the hydrologic year, the Biological Opinion flow levels are generally lower than those established in Decision 1610. In September 2009, the Water Agency petitioned the SWRCB for the permanent changes in D1610 required by the Biological Opinion. The proposed flow regime will undergo a full environmental review, which the Water Agency anticipates starting in the fall.

Because permanently changing D1610 could take several years, the Biological Opinion requires the Water Agency to annually petition the SWRCB to change minimum flow levels on a temporary basis.

SWRCB Order and SCWA Petition Information: A copy of the SWRCB Order is attached. The Water Agency’s Temporary Urgency Change Petition and Petition to Modify D1610 can be found at

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


Sonoma County Water Agency provides water supply, flood protection and sanitation services for portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. Visit us on the Web at

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