LITTLE RIVER, 5/26/21 — As the drought rapidly worsens in Mendocino County, some water districts are already under major mandatory restrictions. Others will likely only see 20% to 30% reductions this summer. This installment of our water security series concerns Redwood Valley. See links and future articles about Willits, Ukiah, Mendocino, and Fort Bragg, among others.
Redwood Valley was the first water district in the county to roll out substantial mandatory water use restrictions. On April 19, Jared Walker, the manager for the Redwood Valley water district, cut off over 200 agricultural connections. Now Redwood Valley’s 5,500 water customers are limited to 55 gallons of water per day per person, and Walker says that without substantial rain next year, the district will be in trouble.
Redwood Valley is in a difficult situation because the area does not have any secure water rights or water sources. They only have one small water right that, according to Walker, is generally unreliable and not usable at all this year.
Normally the district buys its water from the Russian River Flood Control and Water Improvement District for $47 per acre foot. But that district has no extra water to sell.
“Given the drought situation, there is no surplus water available from the Russian River Flood Control District,” said Walker.
Right now the Redwood Valley district is relying solely on its intertie to the Millview Water District well, through which water is pumped from Millview to Redwood Valley. Then it goes through Redwood Valley’s treatment plant and can pump out 800 gallons of water a minute. Millview is a nearby water district also managed by Walker.
This year’s drought is severe. According to the federal government’s US Drought Monitor, almost 75% of the state is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions, including almost all of inland Mendocino.
Communities without reliable, secure water sources, like Redwood Valley are being hit hard, and Walker says that improving Redwood Valley’s water system would be challenging.
“To improve water security for Redwood Valley is a very, very daunting task because they don’t have a secure source of water,” said Walker. “It would require major infrastructure upgrades from Millview all the way to Redwood Valley.”
The Redwood Valley water district was created without any substantial water rights. So improving water security isn’t a matter of digging a deeper well or recycling water, because they don’t have much water to recycle. Even if the district dug a deep well and found water they wouldn’t be able to use it unless they had a legal right to it.
Walker said that Redwood Valley water district users have responded very well to the restrictions, which he believes is largely because at this point, they are used to it.
“The bigger problem is the public outreach and explaining the restrictions in terms that people can understand,” said Walker. “A lot of people don’t understand what 55 gallons per person per day really looks like.”
Walker said to explain he focuses on comparing it to wintertime usage when people cut down outside watering. “If people have questions they can contact me or our office staff and we can walk them through their 12-month historical average to help put things into perspective.”
In addition to managing the Redwood Valley Water District, Walker is also in charge of Millview, Calpella, Willow, River Estates, and Hopland, which together serve close to 15,000 people.. Luckily, the rest of those districts are doing much better than Redwood Valley. However, like most of the rest of the state, they are still moving towards a water shortage, and Walker said he expects other districts will announce a water shortage emergency in June.