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Mendocino County asks Healdsburg to cut river water use

Healdsburg officials said Tuesday they are willing but currently unable to help Mendocino County water users by decreasing the city’s dependence on wells along the Russian River.

“We try to be good neighbors,” said Healdsburg Mayor James Wood.

Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Hamburg had asked Wood to consider having the city use its Dry Creek wells — which are fed by Lake Sonoma — rather than its Russian River wells. Using the latter can affect the amount of water that must be released from Lake Mendocino near Ukiah.

The lake is at an all-time low for January and Mendocino County water officials are scrambling to find ways to conserve as much of what’s left as possible.

Water flow in the Russian River upstream of Dry Creek is one of the factors that determine how much water must be released from Lake Mendocino.

When flows are higher, less water needs to be released from the lake to maintain habitat for fish. The absolute minimum flow allowed in the Russian River at above Dry Creek is 25 cubic feet per second. On Tuesday, it was flowing at about 36 cfs, said Healdsburg Utilities Director Terry Crowley.

If Healdsburg reduced its use of the Russian River wells, it could help keep flows higher and, as a result, more water in Lake Mendocino.

Wood said Healdsburg doesn’t have a water right to draw from its Dry Creek wells until April. “We don’t have access to that water,” he said.

But the city is looking into changing that.

Crowley said the city is trying to expand its right to Dry Creek water to year round, but it takes time.

He said there may be a way to get it changed temporarily or to speed up the process, given the current dry conditions. Low Russian River flows already have significantly reduced the capacity of the city’s wells, Crowley said.

The immediate solution, however, is for people to reduce their water use, he said. If the current drought conditions continue, it’s likely that all Russian River users will be required to dramatically cut back on water consumption.

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