Third Driest Year on Record Leads to Reduced Russian River Flow Request to Protect Fisheries, Water Users Urged to Continue Saving Water

June 8, 2020 - For immediate release

CONTACT: Brad Sherwood, Community and Government Affairs Manager, 707-322-8192 or 707-547-1927,

(Santa Rosa, CA) The Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) today filed a Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP) with the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce Russian River minimum in-stream flows this summer.  With the Ukiah region facing its third driest water year on record, Lake Mendocino’s water supply is projected to reach critically low levels due to dry conditions and reduced water transfers from the Potter Valley Project.  The reduced Potter Valley Project water transfer is forecasted to put Lake Mendocino’s water supply levels into a critical condition. This critical condition is concerning for communities and agriculture that rely on Lake Mendocino for water their supply and could threaten water quality conditions for endangered fish species migrating in the fall up the Russian River.  Minimum in-stream flows requested in the TUCP would help preserve water supplies in Lake Mendocino and protect the fall migration of endangered fish.

Sonoma Water Director James Gore said, ““Sonoma Water needs every tool in its toolbox to ensure our regional water supply system has sufficient supplies to both meet urban water demand but also protect endangered fish species in the Russian River.  The requested reduction in minimum flows is one tool that will help us meet our goals of balancing water for people and fish this year.  Another important tool is water conservation.  Our community has done a great job saving water and we encourage everyone to continue with their water saving efforts.”

The Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership, a coalition of Sonoma Water’s retail water contractors, have launched an annual saving water public education campaign.  The campaign includes radio and newspaper public service announcements educating the community about water saving best practices.  Our region continues to meet state conservation goals and has lowered water use from 130 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) in 2013, to 107 GPCD in 2019.  That is well below the state’s 2020 conservation target of 129 GPCD for our region.  Learn more about the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership and how to save water at

North Marin Water District General Manager and Technical Advisory Committee Chairman Drew McIntyre said, “The Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership was formed in 2010 and recognizes the enhanced water saving benefits that occur when establishing common regional water conservation goals.  As such, the Partnership through its many water-use efficiency programs is working every day of the year to remind our communities about the importance of conserving water resources and promoting long-term efficient water use.”

If the TUCP is approved, effective July 1, minimum in-stream Russian River flows would be managed as below through December 27, 2020:

  • Upper Russian River (From Lake Mendocino to Dry Creek confluence):  No less than 50 cubic feet per second
  • Lower Russian River (From Dry Creek confluence to the Pacific Ocean):  No less than 60 cubic feet per second

Like 2013, Sonoma Water will be requesting that the State Water Board also approve target water supply storage levels for Lake Mendocino.  If storage drops one percent or more below these storage levels, minimum instream flows on the Upper Russian River will be reduced to 40 cfs and 50 cfs in the Lower Russian River.  If approved, the temporary flow changes would expire after 180 days.

Without the TUCP, dry year flow conditions in the Russian River between July 1 and December would be 75 cfs in the upper Russian River and 85 cfs in the lower Russian River.

Sonoma Water General Manager Grant Davis said, “The Temporary Urgency Change Order will preserve water storage in Lake Mendocino.  By preserving storage, we can better maintain the cold-water pool at Lake Mendocino to improve water quality conditions for migrating endangered fish from the ocean into the Russian River.  We will also have more flexibility to manage our regional water supply system.”

Public comments on the TUCP will be managed by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Minimum in-stream flow background:

Sonoma Water controls and coordinates water supply releases from Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma to implement the minimum instream flow requirements in water rights Decision 1610, which the State Water Resources Control Board adopted in 1986.  Decision 1610 specifies minimum flow requirements for the Upper Russian River, Dry Creek, and the Lower Russian River.  These minimum flow requirements vary based on water supply conditions, which are also specified in Decision 1610.  The Decision 1610 requirements for the Upper Russian River and Lower Russian River are contained in term 20 of the Water Agency’s water-right Permit 12947A (Application 12919A).  The Decision 1610 requirements for the Lower Russian River are contained in term 17 of the Water Agency’s water-right Permit 12949 (Application 15736) and term 17 of the Water Agency’s water-right Permit 12950 (Application 15737).  The Decision 1610 requirements for Dry Creek and the Lower Russian River are contained in term 13 of the Water Agency’s water-right Permit 16596 (Application 19351).

Sonoma Water’s operations are also subject to the Russian River Biological Opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service on September 24, 2008.

Supporting Data:

  • Ukiah rainfall to date: Ukiah is currently experiencing the third driest water-year on record with a total 14.66" of rainfall which is 40.4% of normal
  • Ukiah average rainfall through June 7 36.28"
  • Ukiah average rainfall for the entire water-year is 37.03"
  • Lake Mendocino storage level as of 6/8:  75% of water supply storage curve
  • Lake Pillsbury, owned and operated by PG&E, is currently facing critically low water levels and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently permitted PG&E to reduce the amount of water released from Lake Pillsbury into the Potter Valley Project to protect fish species in the Eel River.  


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