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Countywide water limits likely in April

  • 800 yards from the south parking lot, Lake Mendocino continues to drop. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat, Feb. 2014)

Sonoma County residents will likely be facing mandatory water conservation measures by sometime in April if there is no significant rain before then, officials said Tuesday.

“It seems to me that drastic times call for drastic measures,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said as the supervisors approved a drought emergency declaration that will make the county eligible for state and federal disaster assistance.

Healdsburg and Cloverdale have already imposed mandatory conservation because they are dependent on the water coming from Lake Mendocino, which is at just 41 percent of its capacity. The Sonoma County Water Agency has cut releases from the reservoir into the upper Russian River to a trickle in order to preserve whatever it can behind the dam.

But there is growing concern about the supply at the much larger Lake Sonoma, which serves more than 600,000 customers in the cities south of Healdsburg, including parts of Marin County. That reservoir, designed to hold a three-year supply of water, is down to just 67 percent of its capacity and is less than a year away from the level at which the water agency would be forced to impose a 30 percent cut on the municipalities that buy the water and distribute it to residential and business customers.

In early April, “we're going to take a hard look at Lake Sonoma ... our objective is to extend that water pool into November,” when the rainy season should have started again, Water Agency General Manager Grant Davis told the supervisors.

Until the so-far lackluster rainy season wraps up, however, the agency won't know how much water it will have in the reservoir to meet the dry summer months, and therefore it isn't clear yet how much the agency might need to do to hold off the steep mandatory cuts as long as possible.

A key advisory panel, which includes members from all the water systems that buy from the Water Agency, will look at the reservoir levels at a meeting April 7 and may recommend less draconian mandatory measures to stretch the supply, Davis said.

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