Little River, 4/15/21 — The drought situation across our county is grave. This Monday, the Board of Supervisors held a special meeting sponsored by Mendocino County First District supervisor Glenn McGourty to discuss the limited water availability in much of Mendocino, at which the supervisors heard testimony from water managers across the county who described the situation as dire and in desperate need of attention.
Reservoirs that serve large swaths of inland Menodcino have hit record lows, coastal towns are talking about trucking in water to make it through the drought year, and the Redwood Valley water district is shutting off all their agricultural connections, roughly 200, starting this Monday, April 19.
“I’d like to report that our next county crisis has arrived,” said McGourty, opening the “water workshop” meeting. “We’re in a drought for the foreseeable future. In part why we’re having a water workshop is to figure out where we are and where we are going and it’s the beginning of a long journey I’m afraid.”
Don Seymour, principal engineer at Sonoma Water, said that the water supply in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma is the worst it’s been since the 1977 drought.
“Lake Mendocino is going to drop below 10,000 acre feet by October 1. And just to give you perspective, the lowest the reservoir has ever been was 12,000 acre feet 1977, in November.”
This harrowing information signifies that this year’s drought will be more severe than both the 1977 and 2015 droughts. The discussion about Redwood Valley and Calpella was probably the most shocking segment of the two and a half hour meeting, and best highlighted the severity of the water security crisis.
Jared Walker, the general manager of a few local water districts, including Redwood Valley and Calpella, said that he will cut off roughly 200 agricultural water connections in Redwood Valley on Monday.
“Redwood Valley and Calpella, both are probably going to be in pretty dire situations here. Within the next month, probably going to be down to what we would refer to as critical public health and safety water only,” said Walker.
That means water will only be available for basic needs such as hand washing, cooking, bathing, flushing the toilet, and drinking water. And even that water will be limited.
“We need to get some updated numbers from the state on what that may look like. I believe Redwood Valley in 2014 was down to 50 gallons per person per day. So that’s getting pretty dire. Based on these latest numbers of where we’re at and the Lake Mendocino projections for the end of the year, I really don’t think there’s any other option at this point,” Walker continued.
For reference, the average Californian residential water use is 85 gallons per person per day, according to the California Legislature’s Nonpartisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor.
On the Coast, things are similarly worrisome, although they may not come to a head so soon.
Fort Bragg only received 17 inches of rain this year, which John Smith, director of Fort Bragg Public Works said was “far below our normal amount.” The average water year rainfall for Fort Bragg is 39.65 inches, according to data provided by the National Weather Service.
Fort Bragg has three surface water sources — the Noyo, Neumann Gulch, and Waterfall Gulch. However, unlike the inland portion of the county, the coast doesn’t have any large aquifers or reservoirs to collect and store significant water. “It’s a little more challenging [than for inland] to get a grasp on when the shortfall will come. I think like everyone else, we’re going to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” said Smith.
As Mendocino District 5 Supervisor Ted Williams mentioned during the meeting, as the season continues on, coastal towns may have to rely on water deliveries.
But the news isn’t so dreary everywhere. Sean White, director of sewer and water for Ukiah explained that the city, which sits on top of a very large aquifer and has a high-tech water recycling program, is looking pretty good right now.
“We’re kind of lucky, the city has sort of more options for supply,” said White. “We have surface water, we have groundwater, we have recycled water. Because of that, we’re going to sort of lay off the river and the lake to the extent possible and use other sources,” he continued.
Although all of Mendocino, and actually, all of California is now dealing with drought, different communities within our county will face unique water security challenges this year and into the future, which is why Russian River Flood Control General Manager Beth Salomone said that it is important for water leaders in Mendocino to start collaborating now and prepare to work together for years to come.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is that everyone is supporting the coordination between all the water users dependent on Lake Mendocino and Russian River,” said Salomone. “So as we work on the short term emergency, we are and we must continue to address the longer term water resiliency issues. And as we’ve heard today, it’s not just the Russian River watershed, this is countywide. The drought will pass. Rain will come and many people will forget that we’ve had this situation. We as leaders today, we cannot forget this. We have to continue to plan.”
It’s looking like this year will be the driest in Mendocino ever recorded, followed by 1977 and then 2015. This means we’re heading into a summer of hardship — empty wells, crops left unirrigated, and mandatory constraints on water use. Yet, just a few years ago, 2017, was the wettest year on record, emphasizing what it means to live in the era of climate change — a time of true extremes.