Sonoma Co. to cut pumping from Russian River by 20% as drought worsens

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
CA Drought: Sonoma Co. to cut Russian River water use
Although the calendar still indicates Spring, a long, hot dry summer has already begun to shape future life in Sonoma County.

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Although the calendar still indicates Spring, a long, hot dry summer has already begun to shape future life in Sonoma County.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought disaster there, last month.

Now, Sonoma Water and the Board of Supervisors are acting. Later this week, they will ask the State Water Board to approve taking 20% less water from the Russian River.

RELATED: Bay Area jumps to 'extreme' drought category

"Yeah. It needs to be more. It will be more soon, I think," said Supervisor James Gore. He worries about a worst-case summer in which some people might be limited to 55 gallons per day.

Sonoma Water describes this cut as the first move they need to take in a crisis they don't want, but history is not on our side.

"It's bad. This is the lowest we have ever seen our two reservoirs at this time of year," said General Manager Grant Davis. "We're living in a world of extremes. The droughts are getting longer and hotter."

RELATED: California's 2021 wildfire season could be extreme, state officials warn

On Tuesday, Lake Sonoma Reservoir looks as it might in October after a normal drought year. The cracked, dusty bed of Lake Mendocino resembles satellite imagery from another planet. Sonoma Water believes their low water levels mandate the cuts, which will affect anyone using Russian River water from Mendocino to Northern Marin Counties.

"People are going to have to look at plans to let their lawns go brown," said Gore. "They may be reusing water in buckets."

The drought portends even worse conditions for agriculture in the Alexander Valley. "I am worried about the impact to neighbors and the wine industry in general because if it impacts us severely, they won't be able to keep product on shelves," said grape grower Denny Murphy.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom declares drought emergency for 39 California counties

Unlike others in the area, Murphy recognized signs of drought early, and acted early. He allowed rainwater runoff to fill a small reservoir on his property, and then allowed an invasive week to grow on the surface because it cuts down evaporation.

"You saw this coming?"

"I've seen 'em before," Murphy replied.

Expect a summer of dry hurt. Déj vu all over again.

"A drought is never expected," said Murphy. "But we get them."