North Bay reservoirs reach decade-high levels

January 27, 2010 8:51:44 PM PST
Under the category of "what a difference a year can make," look no further than the Sonoma and Mendocino County reservoirs to see the positive effect of this winter's El Niño storms.

In the past two weeks, the reservoirs have finally risen above decade-low water levels.

Lake Sonoma Reservoir has now reached what the water district considers 100 percent of what they need, even though the lake is only 66 percent full. Lake Mendocino is now at 87 percent, almost double the total from two weeks ago and particularly notable because at this time last year, in the third year of a drought, it looked like a cracking mudflat.

The district asked for and received conservation cutbacks from water users. Those measures remain in effect, but as part of a much more optimistic scenario.

"We're pleased," says Michael Thompson, a deputy chief engineer with the Sonoma County Water Agency. "We want to be at 100 percent capacity in April and May. If the rains stopped now, we might have some issues, but thus far, the storms have arrived with perfect timing."

The district has no immediate worries about flooding. Lake Sonoma has officially entered flood stage, but that reflects a number more than a condition. If it were a teacup, the lake would be only two-thirds full. Any water on top of that becomes the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls releases to ensure sufficient flood protection.

"We would need considerably more rain to reach that stage," said Thompson. "It would need to be a tropical 'pineapple express.' Such storms do occur in El Niño years."

For now at least, rest easy along the Russian River.