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Decades-old project to raise Lake Mendocino dam gets a boost

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In early 2014, after fewer than 8 inches of rain had fallen in the upper reaches of the Russian River the previous year, Lake Mendocino dwindled to a third of its capacity, exposing acres of bare ground, and Mendocino County supervisors declared a drought emergency.

“How many times do we have to knock ourselves on the head before we get it?” then-Supervisor John Pinches asked during the board meeting. “Folks, we’ve got to come up with another water supply.”

The irony, in retrospect, is that a major addition to the reservoir near Ukiah — boosting its capacity by 25 billion gallons — had been planned by the Army Corps of Engineers more than 50 years ago. But with California in the midst of a five-year drought, the plan was gathering dust on the shelves of the federal dam-building agency.

A coalition of local agencies, including Mendocino County and the city of Ukiah, already had paid $617,000 toward a feasibility study that would determine if the benefits of raising Coyote Valley Dam by 36 feet justified the cost of about $320 million.

But without more money, Corps officials said in 2014 the study could not move forward.

Now, with the prospect of drought and hotter weather considered California’s “new normal” due to climate change, new hopes have arisen for the relief Pinches and others have sought: More water in Lake Mendocino to quench the needs of residents, farmers and fish along 75 miles of the Russian River from Redwood Valley to Healdsburg and contribute to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s deliveries to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8431501-181/decades-old-project-to-raise-lake

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Sonoma County launches first test of ‘groundwater banking’ to prep for drought

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s first experiment with underground drinking water storage is taking place at an unremarkable well drilled to 230 feet into the floor of Sonoma Valley.

Here, enough Russian River water to fill a large swimming pool — about 500,000 gallons — is now on deposit in a sand and gravel aquifer that lies beneath a thick lid of 8 million-year-old lava rock underlying part of the valley.

On Tuesday, crews began pumping water back out of the ground in the first round of testing under a $250,000 study of groundwater storage and recovery conducted by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the city of Sonoma.

The goal of the study, which started last month and will run through July, is to “verify and empirically determine” the feasibility of pumping plentiful wintertime surface water into the ground for extraction during dry summers, with increasingly volatile weather patterns expected as a consequence of climate change, officials said.

If the practice, known as groundwater banking, proves viable it “will make us a lot more resilient” as climate change forces the county to “ping pong between floods and drought,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the water agency.

Similar projects are underway around the state as water managers move toward integrated systems meshing surface water in lakes, rivers and behind dams with water stored in underground reservoirs, known as aquifers, he said.

Read more at http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/8187492-181/sonoma-county-groundwater-aquifer-drought

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Berkeley Lab studies effects of North Bay fires on Sonoma County water

Matthew Lo, THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN

Another article on this study

With the coming rainy season, some Sonoma County residents are fearful of the effects of runoff from the recent North Bay fires entering the nearby Russian River, a major source of water for Sonoma and Marin counties.

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are studying the fire’s impact on the Russian River and the groundwater system, which serves about 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties, according to an article published by the lab last week.

The fires, which began Oct. 8, burned more than 100,000 acres and destroyed more than 5,700 structures. Many UC Berkeley students hail from the affected area and were subsequently uprooted from their communities.

The lab is also working with the United States Geological Survey, or USGS, and Sonoma County Water Agency, or SCWA, to monitor water quality in Sonoma County, according to an SCWA press release published last month.

There are six riverbank filtration systems located along and around Sonoma County’s Russian River, according to Michelle Newcomer, a postdoctoral fellow in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at the lab.

These riverbank systems, which pump river water 20 meters underground to natural aquifers, use sediments and environmental aerobic microbes to filter the water, according to Newcomer.

Read more at: Berkeley Lab studies effects of North Bay fires on Sonoma County water

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Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, was tapped Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown as the state’s new director for the Department of Water Resources, handing a veteran of North Bay politics and water policy a central role in Brown’s controversial bid to overhaul California’s water system with a $17 billion pair of tunnels under Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Davis, 54, has led the county Water Agency since 2010 and is set to begin in his new post in Sacramento in August, pending confirmation by the state Senate. The Department of Water Resources is the lead state agency providing water for 25 million residents, farms and business.

Its most contentious proposal under Brown is the pair of massive tunnels intended to convey Sacramento River water under the Delta and deliver it to users to the south, including farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.

“The governor supports that California WaterFix and so do I,” Davis said Wednesday, using the nickname for the disputed project that pits Northern California water and environmental interests against influential agricultural and urban users south of the Delta.“

I will be a major participant in that effort,” Davis said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was on an unrelated trip to lobby for funding to support long-range weather forecasting.

Davis would succeed former DWR Director Mark Cowin, who retired late last year along with the agency’s chief deputy director, Carl Torgersen. The appointment comes as the state continues to emerge from a historic five-year drought, with a push to fortify supplies, build new reservoirs and protect the environment — initiatives that can be in conflict.

Davis said there is “a long way to go” in addressing the state’s water demand and a need to “find a balance” between water supplies and protection of “habitat and fisheries.”

Read more at: Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources | The Press Democrat

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Santa Rosa water restrictions end for city residents 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa residents are out from under local water-saving mandates imposed two years ago in the grip of a nagging drought, thanks to an abundant water supply behind Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, officials said Wednesday.

Based on assurances that the reservoir behind the taxpayer-funded, $360 million dam west of Healdsburg can sustain 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents for three more potentially dry years, the City Council rescinded, effective immediately, the mandatory curbs on outdoor water use adopted in August 2014.

The council’s action followed last month’s ruling by the State Water Resources Control Board that local agencies with a three-year water supply could be exempted from state water conservation targets. Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers met that requirement, the Sonoma County Water Agency said at the time.

On Wednesday, the water agency confirmed in a forecast to the state water board that Lake Sonoma would hold a healthy 178,398 acre feet of water at the end of September in 2019, after three rain-poor years comparable to 2013 through 2015.

Brad Sherwood, the water agency’s spokesman, said the report “illustrates our region’s ability to meet water supply demands” over a three-year drought.

Read more at: Santa Rosa water restrictions end for city residents | The Press Democrat

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Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

With two Russian River reservoirs brimful of runoff from a prolonged storm, the North Bay region is nearing an end to its multi-year drought, a water management official said Friday.

“It looks like a March miracle,” said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which supplies water to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. “Our water supply system hasn’t looked this good in more than three years.”

Lake Sonoma west of Healdsburg, the region’s largest reservoir, was at 107 percent of capacity for this time of year, and Lake Mendocino, the far smaller reservoir near Ukiah, was at 117 percent, with both lakes the fullest they have been in early March since 2012.

The atmospheric river that delivered the latest rainfall offered not only significant drought relief, but also relented Friday afternoon, offsetting flood forecasts and giving the ground a chance to absorb water, Sherwood said.

The Russian River water system is independent from the network of major reservoirs and canals that serve most of California, which remains under mandatory water conservation measures.

Read more at: Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

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Lake Mendocino nears winter capacity; Lake Sonoma close behind

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Recent rainstorms have swelled Lake Mendocino, reopening the reservoir to motor boats for the first time since August, swallowing islands raised by the drought and bringing fresh hope to ranchers and water officials.

By Thursday afternoon, the lake had reached 98 percent of capacity for this time of the year, when some space is reserved in the reservoir to help with flood prevention.

Once the level hits 100 percent, dam managers must increase releases to keep it at that level, unless they are given permission to hold back additional supplies.

In March, the reservoir’s storage capacity will rise from 68,400 acre-feet to about 110,000 acre-feet, a change aimed at maintaining adequate water supplies throughout the dry season for people, fish and agriculture along the Russian River. The key to recovery from the drought is filling the reservoir to its maximum capacity in the spring.

Read more at: Lake Mendocino nears winter capacity; Lake Sonoma close | The Press Democrat

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El Niño not fizzling: More storms barreling toward California

Paul Rogers, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Don’t even think about putting that umbrella away.

El Niño conditions may have peaked in the Pacific Ocean, federal scientists said Thursday, but powerful weather systems — like a new series of storms on track to soak the greater Bay Area over the next five days — have only just begun and will likely continue at least through May.

“This is the time of year when El Niño acts the most reliably,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate prediction center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in College Park, Maryland. “So we would certainly expect the impacts to continue well through the rest of the winter and into the early part of the spring.”

There is a 96 percent chance that El Niño conditions will remain through March, scientists at NOAA and Columbia University reported Thursday, and a 62 percent probability they will continue through May.

Simply put, that means the likelihood of regular storms across California and heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada will continue to be greater this year than in regular years, offering hope that 2016 may finally be the year that the state’s four-year drought — now starting its fifth year — is broken.

But, experts caution, a lot more rain and snow is needed.

Read more at: El Niño not fizzling: More storms barreling toward California – San Jose Mercury News

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Rooftop rain collection helps rural Sonoma County residents and salmon

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rain on the roof at Karl Andersen’s home in Bodega is more than a sweet sound of the season after four dry years.

It means he has enough water to irrigate his garden and greenhouse through the next fall, and that, in turn, means more water for the coho salmon in Salmon Creek, which meanders through the near-coast hamlet where Alfred Hitchcock famously filmed “The Birds” in 1963.

Rain runs off Andersen’s roof and through pipes into three green plastic storage tanks that hold a total of 15,000 gallons of water, a valuable amenity in a water-scarce corner of Sonoma County with California now officially in a fifth year of drought.

“They are just about ready to overflow for Christmas,” Andersen said last week, noting that December rains nearly topped off the tanks.

Because the state gets most of its rain in the winter and most of it escapes into the Pacific Ocean, the idea of capturing rainwater in tanks and ponds is gaining momentum, including a financial boost from Sonoma County’s two resource conservation districts.

The Sonoma RCD, which covers most of the county, and the Gold Ridge RCD, which covers the west county, are offering funds for the design and construction of water storage systems on rural homes and ranches in five watersheds that support coho salmon.

Read more at: Rooftop rain collection helps rural Sonoma County residents | The Press Democrat

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Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino get runoff boost from recent storms

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Drought-weary North Bay residents are getting an early holiday present from Mother Nature as sporadic December storms have boosted the water level in the region’s largest reservoir and set the stage for bigger gains if rain continues to fall.

Lake Sonoma, the key source of water for 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties, hit 66.9 percent of water storage capacity Thursday, up two-tenths of a point since Dec. 1 — a small but significant increase that marked the reservoir’s first uptick since June 30, when it was 81.7 percent full.

Water managers call that an “inflection point,” and Jay Jasperse, the Sonoma County Water Agency’s chief engineer, said it is “good news,” with better news possibly on the way.

The storms that have dropped just over 5 inches of rain in the Santa Rosa basin since Oct. 1 have essentially saturated the near-surface soil, allowing water to run off into reservoirs, a trend that appears to be happening to California’s largest reservoirs, as well.

“Runoff hasn’t been huge,” Jasperse said, declaring he is “cautiously optimistic” that soggy soil will keep most of the upcoming rain on the surface and draining into reservoirs.

More rain is expected Friday, over the weekend and continuing next week, consulting meteorologist Jan Null said. “A wet pattern is setting up,” he said, with no downpours but “consistent rain through the end of the year.”

Read more at: Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino get runoff boost from | The Press Democrat