Storms make water officials hopeful

January 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Heavy rainfall throughout the Bay Area has people worried about flooding, especially later this week, but in Sonoma County, the rain is a welcome site after three long years of drought and water rationing.

In Healdsburg, they have a long-standing tradition, at least among residents who have lived there for a long time. When it rains big, they come down and they look at the Russian River and they check the level. But for the first time in long time, they were not disappointed.

For all the occasional shining moments in Sonoma County, a full river may have been the most beautiful for some beholders. Many may have been happy to see a gushing, muddy Russian River roaring through Healdsburg.

"It's beautiful, it's amazing, and it's unrecognizable from what it usually is," said one resident.

At least it is a vast contrast from what it had been as recently as this time last winter when they were in the midst of a drought.

All this water will make Pam Jeane's engineering job with the Sonoma County Water District much easier.

"We've been getting breaks in between the storms, but if we continue to get these kinds of storms back to back and get several more, we could have full reservoirs by the end of spring," says Jeane.

That would be a far cry from last year, when Lake Mendocino seemed on the verge of going bone dry. Now, it is at 50 percent capacity and the county's other big reservoir, Lake Sonoma, is at 80 percent.

It is still not enough to ease water restrictions in Sonoma or northern Marin counties, but much better than last year's worst case scenarios.

"We are not going to ask anybody to relax any of the conservation measures that they've got in place and are used to implementing at this point," says Jeane.

In short, it is soon enough to call these rains a good start, but too early to call an end to the drought -- even if a rainbow did appear to straddle the Healdsburg Bridge and Russian River.

As of 7 p.m. Tuesday night, there is no danger of the Russian River cresting and reaching a flood stage, but it is moving well, with plenty of volume.

Officials do not look at the depth so much as they look as the water flowing through it. They measured it at 12,000 cubic feet of water per second. For a comparison, this time last year, the rate was 100 cubic feet per second. That is more than a measurable difference.