Lake Mendocino shrinking again


On the surface, Lake Mendocino appears to have plenty of water, especially when compared with the near-record low levels that turned most of the lake into a mudflat last year. But the lake’s water level already has begun a steady decline that has farmers and water officials concerned it could again shrink to near empty by the end of this fourth year of drought.

“Everybody’s watching it,” Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones said.
Unless significant rain falls this spring, state regulators are likely to repeat last year’s unprecedented curtailment of hundreds of water rights held by farmers and others along the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg.

The state already has curtailed water rights to some Sacramento River tributaries and notified Russian River water users they could be next. State officials also have extended mandated water restrictions for all domestic uses in California.

“I expect they’ll be seeking curtailments again” on the upper Russian River, said Alfred White, a viticulturist and member of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, which holds Mendocino County’s right to 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino.

Lake Mendocino appeared headed for normal water levels following early winter storms, but then the rain tapered off, followed by the end of a regulatory effort to conserve that water.

The water level began dropping in mid-February, just after the expiration of a state-issued variance that temporarily reduced the minimum in-stream flows in the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg. The flows, aimed largely at preserving fish, are managed by the Sonoma County Water Agency, except when there’s a risk of flooding.
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