Water levels move from dire to bad

February 23, 2009 9:34:47 PM PST
Despite heavy rains in the past two weeks, water rationing remains an almost-certainty for residents of Sonoma County later this summer. But, it may not be as bad as the Sonoma County Water Agency had initially feared.

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He is a man in a strange kind of limbo, stuck between worst and best case scenarios.

"That's the west fork of the Russian," said Don Butow.

It runs through the back of Butow's old growth vineyard in the Redwood Valley. During the past two weeks, it has grown from trickle to torrent, to a symbol of tantalizing hope.

"We're still way below last year. And last year was bad," said Don Butow, a grape grower.

Butow's fate depends on Lake Mendocino, which serves him, Sonoma County, and parts of Northern Marin. Even with all the recent rain, it's just 44 percent of capacity.

In a normal winter, the docks should be floating. And in certain places there should be eight or 10 feet of water.

"We've gone from dire to bad," said Sean White, the Russian River watershed manager.

Monday's lake level is more than 12,000-acre-feet lower than on this date in 1977, and that was the worst drought year ever. However, at least it's better than it was a month ago.

"I am optimistic, but this is not the end of our problems," said White.

The good news is that enough rain has fallen this month to prevent water cutbacks of 50 percent. The bad part is that it still hasn't been enough.

"We're still looking at 30 percent and still looking at contingency plans," said Brad Sherwood, from the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Sherwood is also still worried, along with everyone else in the North counties. As of Monday, Butow doesn't know where his irrigation will come from, if at all. Try sleeping on that.

"What puts me to sleep is the sound of rain on the roof. That makes me sleep really well," said Butow.

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