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California Considering Re-adopting Water Rights Curtailment on Russian River Due to Drought

The following is a public notice issued by the State Water Resources Control Board:

The Russian River near Frog Woman Rock between Hopland and Cloverdale [PIcture by Matt LaFever]

As California heads into a third consecutive dry year, the State Water Resources
Control Board (State Water Board) Division of Water Rights (Division) is considering the readoption of an emergency regulation to curtail water rights in the Russian River watershed. After evaluating the 2021 Emergency Regulation, the Division is proposing changes for 2022 that provide clarity, improve implementation, and address stakeholder feedback the Division received over the past year. The revised emergency regulation features four primary changes: (1) a refined water availability methodology for the Russian River Watershed; (2) protect water for fish habitat in Lower Russian River tributaries; (3) support for a voluntary conservation program that would work in parallel with curtailments; and (4) improved administration of curtailments and exceptions across watersheds. Additionally, the final draft regulation will include incidental updates to regulation sections pertaining to other watersheds resulting from proposed renumbering.

State Water Board staff will hold a public workshop to provide information and answer questions related to the proposed emergency regulation. The workshop will be offered as both an in person meeting as well as a virtual meeting. Details of the public workshop are as follows:

Thursday, April 14, 2022
1:30 p.m.
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
David C. Joseph Room
5550 Skylane Blvd., Suite A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Zoom Broadcast (pre-registration required)
https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_N0Mg3XkAT4SFiq9uI9Z9EA

Background
On April 21, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a drought emergency proclamation in Mendocino and Sonoma counties due to drought conditions in the Russian River watershed. The April 2021 Proclamation directed the State Water Board to consider the adoption of an emergency regulation to ensure adequate minimum water supplies and to curtail water diversions when water is not available. On March 28, 2022, Governor Newsom issued an executive order confirming the need for such emergency regulation following the driest January to March in California’s recorded history.

Under California’s priority-based water rights system, if there is insufficient water to
support all water rights, junior water right holders are ordered to limit or stop their water diversions first, based on their water right priority, to satisfy the rights of those more senior to them. On June 15, 2021, the State Water Board adopted the emergency regulation, allowing the Board to determine when water is unavailable for diversion at water users’ priority of right and authorizing the Deputy Director to issue curtailment orders requiring recipients to cease diversions. California’s Office of Administrative Law approved the emergency regulation, putting it into effect on July 12, 2021. Curtailment orders were issued to water users in early August as the watershed’s drought conditions worsened and storage levels in Lake Mendocino continued to decline.

The current emergency regulation is set to expire in July 2022. However, due to
ongoing drought conditions, the Division is proposing to extend the emergency
regulation an additional year. The Division plans to revise and readopt the emergency regulation in early May to guarantee that it is in place before the 2022 dry season begins.

Additional Information
Please visit the State Water Board’s Russian River Drought Response webpage
(https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drought/russian_river) for additional information on drought related activities. This website will be updated with draft materials available for public comment and additional drought-related information as available.

How to Receive Updates
If you would like to receive email updates about the Russian River drought effort, please sign up for the State Water Board’s “Russian River Drought” email subscription list under Water Rights at: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/email_subscriptions/

Questions and Comments
Please email questions regarding this notice and related efforts, and comments on the draft regulation to: RussianRiverDrought@waterboards.ca.gov. The deadline for
comment submittal is April 18, 2022 by 12 noon.

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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
Editor's Note: Whenever an article's byline reads "MendoFever Staff", the contents of that article were not composed by any of our reporters. Types of writing that will be attributed to "MendoFever Staff" include press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, obituaries— essentially writing that is not produced by a reporter.

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