Saturday, November 26, 2022

Keeping Scotts Dam, Four New Wells, Ag Users Billed Even Though They Won’t Get Water— Highlights from This Week’s Redwood Valley Water District Meeting

A waterway in Redwood Valley[Photo by afletch4141 via their Flickr account]

The Redwood Valley County Water District Board of Directors met on May 19, 2022 at 5:00 pm at the District Office, 151 Laws Avenue, Ukiah. Further clarification of issues discussed at the meeting was provided afterward by Jared Walker, General Manager. Board Member Adam Gaska requested corrections to this article.

Background: The Many Water Agencies in the Ukiah Valley Basin

In order to understand the topics discussed at the meeting, one needs to know the puzzle pieces. The Upper Russian River Water Agency, a joint powers authority working to consolidate Ukiah Valley’s water districts. The Ukiah Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency (UVBGSA), a county agency, created under the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014. The UVBGSA is mandated by the California Department of Water Resources to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Ukiah Valley Basin. Ukiah Valley is a medium priority basin, one of California’s 515 groundwater basins, which are grouped into four categories: high, medium, low and very low priority. The Ukiah Valley Basin is in the Upper Russian River Watershed, which affects Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. The Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District (RRFC) formed in 1955 to develop Coyote Dam together with the Sonoma County Water Agency. The Inland Water and Power Commission was formed to protect the future of the Potter Valley Water Project, which is the interbasin transfer of Eel and Russian River water to Potter Valley and Lake Mendocino via Scott Dam.

Ag Water Users Billed Even Though They Didn’t Get Water Last Summer and Probably Won’t This Year

Ag water customers were billed through last year, even though ag water was cut off early in the Summer, and will continue to be billed, even though it is unlikely that ag water will be available this Summer. Without this income the District would be forced to raise rates significantly for the residential customers. It is expensive for the District to maintain two systems for ag and residential.

Wells Drilled on School Way, Redwood Valley

Four monitoring wells have been drilled on School Way in Redwood Valley in front of the soccer field at the former elementary school. These wells were not drilled by the District. Telemetry equipment has been installed to assess the geologic formations in the boreholes. The depth of each well is different to monitor different tiers of the aquifer. A side comment was made about the original intent for the school property. Old timers say that the land was intended to be used as a school in perpetuity and that it cannot be sold to a private developer, and that “somebody” has located the original document. No further discussion on this.

Source of Domestic Water in Redwood Valley

For over a year all domestic water in Redwood Valley has been provided from Millview County Water District.

PG&E Settlement Funds

Of the $22 million settlement funds for the fires that devastated Redwood Valley and Potter Valley, only $200,000 found its way to the District. The County Board of Supervisors was in charge of allocating the funds.

Request for Water from Russian River Flood Control

The Russian River Flood Control District surplus water in Lake Mendocino has been a traditional source for Redwood Valley. Russian River Flood Control requested that going forward Redwood Valley submit a formal application for this water. The board agreed to do so. This is based on the assumption that water from Lake Pillsbury will be available. Flows from Lake Pillsbury are much lower than in the past, when water was abundant. There is less available water now and more users depending on it. The surplus water from Russian River Flood Control in the past has been used for both ag and domestic customers. If Scott Dam on Lake Pillsbury is decommissioned, there is little hope of getting water from the Russian River Flood Control District. Currently there is approximately 47,000 acre feet of water in Lake Mendocino, but mandatory releases downstream will drain this amount quickly.

PG&E Power Generation and FERC

The water flowing from Scott Dam through a tunnel in Potter Valley was intended to generate power through a PG&E station, regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. PG&E’s equipment is in need of upgrading and repair. At this time, PG&E is operating on a year to year to basis. As of May 13, PG&E issued a change petition to FERC to reduce the flows to the Potter Valley Irrigation District and Lake Mendocino. PG&E is obligated to provide Potter Valley with 45 cubic feet per second. They have been providing 60 to 70 cubic feet per second. If FERC approves the change petition, PG&E could cut back to 25 cubic feet per second. Traditionally, the flow rate has been 270 cubic feet per second. If PG&E curtails the flow to 25 cubic feet per second , the environmental groups, such as Friends of the Eel River, will push even harder to decommission Scott Dam because the lower flow rate is not enough to sustain the fish. Local water users have been far less vocal to authorities about this complicated issue. Inland Water and Power will work with Sonoma County to bring to FERC’s attention the fact that this water supplies the needs of residential customers and farmers in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Congressman Jared Huffman has stated that he believes there will be enough water in the Eel River to meet the demands of Potter Valley and diversions into Lake Mendocino. The District disagrees and is in favor of keeping Scott Dam in place.

Upper Russian River Water Agency

The URRWA was formed to consolidate the individual water districts in the Ukiah Valley, pursuant to California Senate Bill 88 which mandates consolidation of water and sewer districts in municipalities. With the ongoing drought, the State has allocated tens of millions of dollars to stimulate these consolidation efforts. The URRWA will form an ad hoc committee with the City of Ukiah to work on consolidation. The funds are available to secure water, repair infrastructure and other benefits. The state has asked for a letter of intent, which will act as a placeholder in the funding allocation until formal application is made. The consolidated agency is ultimately expected to provide Redwood Valley with access to the more abundant groundwater in the Ukiah Valley. The District, which is $7 million in debt, has most to gain and little to lose in consolidation. There is $1 billion available from the state for disadvantaged communities (Redwood Valley is considered disadvantaged) to consolidate.

City of Ukiah Purple Pipe Reclaimed Water

The Purple Pipe water is already allocated for other uses and is not available to use as Redwood Valley ag water. The reclaimed water has a high Ph and is suitable only as a supplemental ag water source.

Grant Funding

$200,000 granted from the American Rescue Plan Act has been used to purchase hydrant locks and the remainder of the funds may be used to install new green meters. $1.8 million was granted, of which $1.2 million will be allocated to drilling new wells. 

LACO Engineering

Jordan Blough from LACO, a local engineering firm, gave a presentation about the well drilling project in Redwood Valley. After discussion, the District approved going ahead with LACO. A question was raised about the California Department of Water Resources helicopter with large measuring device attached. This device measures groundwater and recently flew over Redwood Valley. The data gathered from those flights is not available at this time, but LACO will use the data when it becomes available. LACO is committed to pursue grant funding in the future, not simply rely on existing funds from the District.

No Moratorium on New Well Drilling

Some California Counties have put a moratorium on new well drilling. Mendocino County is monitoring the policies of neighboring counties and have not yet instituted a moratorium.

Potential Water Storage at Hensley Creek in Ukiah

The City of Ukiah has the opportunity to purchase property on Hensley Creek to develop a reservoir. The project is in the talking stages with state agencies and if it goes forward it could add up to 6,000 acre feet of water storage, which may be available to the District, although it is too early to go into details.

Next Meeting

June 16, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. The District meets every third Thursday of the month

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1 COMMENT

  1. The Fact is Redwood Valley is about to get back it’s old neighbor Coyote Valley with a small stream that turns into a mighty river before it exits into the ocean. The consortium of interests failed with not all the community members represented thus letting an environmental travesty of the 1890’s and a sore tale of the use of local tribes as enslaved labor come to an end. Redwood Valley built itself along with Potter Valley on the clear life blood of the land with one expanding to be the bedroom community of a county and the other seeing it’s agriculture watering practices turn to flooded lawn watering. The hope of a reservoir at Hensley Creek will be fraught with hurdles as to it’s impact on the Pinoleville Rancheria and Mendocino Community College along with a stream that once had large sums of money dumped into it in the late 1980’s to build a fish ladder at the Hensley Creek Bridge on State Street. The only hope the water users have is the ground water availability and whether agriculture will win over domestic use, so the quandary is Wine or Water and Weed or Water with the choice being left to whoever occupies the office and constituency they most represent.
    Redwood Valley might be able to look to the creek north of those mighty Russian headwaters called Tomki to supply liquid gold but it too will be decided for them not by them and if a 1890’s tunnel diversion can’t supply a greater constituency to the south than what about a simple pipe from another Eel tributary located just as close.
    So let the dust fight begin as our future seems fraught with it.

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Monica Huettl
Monica Huettl
Mendocino County Resident, Annoying Horse Girl.

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