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Thursday, August 11, 2022

State continues cuts in Russian river watershed

by Mary Callahan | press democrat

State water regulators imposed a freeze on 331 water rights in the Russian River watershed effective Friday, ending a week’s relief due to late rains that prevented imposing restrictions earlier this summer.

The long-awaited order has meant that several hundred farms, grape growers and other landowners are now prohibited from exercising their rights to draw water from the river and some of its tributaries due to insufficient supplies.

Duff Beville, a Dry Creek-area grape grower and vineyard manager, said, “We are getting more and more efficient as time goes on, but it still hurts when you are told that you are going to have more irrigation on your property. can not do.” which oversees 1,200 acres. “It is tough dry farming. If it was easy, we would all be doing it.”

But the order means different things to different water rights holders. Some may have alternative water sources or other active water rights, while some may participate in a new voluntary water-sharing agreement that allows people with enough water to transfer a portion of their water to those who cut it. Is.

Margo Warnke is the Merck Vineyard and Ranch Manager at Warnke Ranch & Vineyards between the Russian River and Chalk Hill Road east of Healdsburg. The land has been with his family for more than a century. She knows from past experience that water stored over the winter in a reservoir on the property will be enough to irrigate vineyards through the harvest, even if one of her five water rights has been curtailed.

But she also welcomed the opportunity to help others who might not have been so lucky and joined the Common Agreement, which was developed by regional stakeholders and approved by the State Water Resources Control Board last month.

The program has attracted 135 water rights holders, including the city of Ukia and the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, who have water to share.

“We’re all trying to work together, I hope,” Merck said. “We’re all in this together.”

One of those hoping to profit is Isaul “Jr” Macias, vineyard manager at Hoot Owl Creek Vineyards in Alexander Valley, whose waters were closed on Friday and are part of a water-sharing agreement. .

But Macias said he took important steps to prepare for the inevitable this year, including adopting the use of soil agents applied to his vineyards via drip systems and allowing limited irrigation supplies to penetrate deeply and into the root zone. Includes helping them live longer.

In addition, 20 acres of unproductive vines have been pulled out, further reducing the need for water.

In addition, a major problem of leaking irrigation pipes, mainly caused by thirsty wildlife chewing on the lines, was reduced by leaving buckets of water for the animals at the end of the vineyard lines. Is.

“We feel more comfortable moving forward this year than we did last year because of the steps we’ve taken and I’m a fan of this water sharing program,” Macias said. “It’s still pretty new, so we’ll see that moving forward.”

Most of those affected are in the Upper Russian River along the main stem and near what are called “riparian water rights”. Sam Boland-Bryan, supervisor engineer for the State Water Resources Control Division of Water Rights, said riparian rights apply to people whose land touches water.

The list of reduced water rights includes several vineyards in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, including areas such as Alexander Valley and Knights Valley, as well as organizations such as the Pepperwood Foundation, California’s Litton Rancheria and the Sonoma County Water Agency. However, like many others, the water agency maintains several water rights in the watershed.

State water regulatory staff said all the two affected water bodies are located above the Dry Creek confluence.

The current order has little effect compared to last year’s cuts, which suspended about 18,000 water rights in the upper and lower watersheds beginning in August, as Lake Mendocino reached its record low of 12,081 acre-feet established in 1977. level had shrunk. The lake reached 12,864 acre-feet last fall before the rains arrived, partially replenishing the reservoir but still leaving a deficit. On Thursday it was at 50,627 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is a unit of measurement equal to 325,851 gallons, or about the amount of water needed to flood most of a football field one foot deep.)

This year’s deduction has been made a month earlier than last year.

“It’s more than a month in the middle of summer, some people don’t have water,” Beville said. “That’s an extra four weeks of potential irrigation stress. Welcome to farming.”

This round of reductions probably won’t be the last, as drought conditions have intensified this summer and a reduction in flow has been announced through the Potter Valley Power Plant into Lake Mendocino.

The reduced transfer of Eel River water into the East Fork Russian River through the Disabled Hydroelectric Project and eventually into the Ukia-area reservoir would directly affect downstream users and could prompt new reductions.

Eric Eckdahl, deputy director of the Department of Water Rights, told the state water resources control board in June that there had been a “significantly” decline in the reservoir’s flow after federal energy regulators decided that the water supply has been reduced.

Even at present, with relatively high flows through the Potter Valley, Lake Mendocino holds just 58% of its target storage level for this time of year, with a full season of warm weather ahead and many more to go before any substantial rain. months can be realistically anticipated.

Water is being released from the reservoir at sufficient levels to meet federal requirements for protected salmon and steelhead trout and other basic human health and safety, environmental and recreational needs.

In areas of the watershed where there is no “natural flow” from rain and runoff, those who have diversion rights along the river have been reported to have little water.

Alexander Valley grape grower Dennis Murphy of Murphy Ranch has curtailed water rights that he will no longer use anyway because it only allows him to take water from the river during the wet winter months for the summer.

World Nation News Desk
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