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Russian River Curtailments, A Stand-Alone Water Agency—Notes from the Mendocino County Drought Task Force Meeting 

The South Fork of the Eel River near Leggett in early December 2021 [Picture by Matt LaFever]

The Mendocino Countywide Drought Task Force, an ad-hoc committee of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors convened by John Haschak and Glenn McGourty met on June 16, 2022, at 4:00 p.m. via Zoom. Issues discussed included potential curtailments to Russian River water users, the possibility of a stand-alone task force dedicated to water issues, and an ordinance designed to monitor commercial wells.

Report on Potter Valley Project

Janet Pauli, Chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission described the possibility that the State Water Board may send out notices of potential curtailment to Russian River water users. Pauli hasn’t seen any notices yet, and they may only target junior water rights holders at this time.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission directed PG&E to begin the surrender process of their license for the power generating facility. IWPC is waiting for PG&E to give FERC a plan for their plan for surrender. The FERC license technically expired May 14, 2022 and IWPC expects to hear from PG&E by the end of June 2022.

The second most pressing issue is the flow through the Potter Valley Project. Equipment failure at the powerhouse negatively affects water storage in Lake Mendocino. PG&E, under a variance, wants to reduce the East Branch minimum flows to 5 cubic feet per second for the duration of the summer. The Potter Valley Irrigation District would continue to have the contracted amount of 50 CFS on demand. PG&E made this decision without including the stakeholders they normally would have worked with. The amount of water in Lake Pillsbury is considered a “normal” water year. Currently, the flows are 75 CFS. IWPC is waiting to hear from PG&E as to whether FERC will grant the request to reduce flows to 5 CFS to PG&E. PG&E now says it may initially drop the flow to 20 CFS. The flow into Lake Mendocino is currently 75 CFS and the lake is slowly filling. IWPC hopes that PG&E will drop to 25 CFS, which is the amount for a “dry” year.

The National Marine Fisheries Service requested a change to the requirement for minimum storage in Lake Pillsbury from 12,000 acre feet to 30,000 acre feet in order to maintain a cold water pool. The 30,000 acre feet minimum would change the Potter Valley Project flow releases dramatically

Pauli also commented on behalf of the Potter Valley Irrigation District, addressing criticism that they have been “giving away” water. This is not true. Customers pay PVID $22 per acre foot. Many users downstream (not in the District) have not paid PGE at all for water. A regional entity needs to be formed so that all users will pay fairly. The district doesn’t have enough funds to take over the Potter Valley Project and needs to work with other water users to ensure future water stability.

Potential Stand-Alone County Water Agency

Howard Dashiell, Director of Mendocino County Department of Transportation, which oversees water issues such as the Ukiah Valley Basin Ground Water Sustainability Agency, reported on a possible stand-alone County water agency. The Board of Supervisors considered a Stakeholder presentation to re-establish the County Water Agency at the May 17, 2022 meeting. Because of budget constraints, this is on pause for now, and they will take small steps if implementation goes forward. Haschak commented that the County did commit $250,000 of funds received from PG&E toward this, but questioned whether to commit to staffing the potential agency. McGourty suggested looking at grants and working together with the UC Cooperative Extension, which is in the process of hiring two water scientists. The County could contribute an employee or contractor to this team. The focus would be on potable water and issues in the Russian River watershed. The Russian River water users in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties need to find a way to obtain water rights from PG&E to Eel River water. IWPC cannot do this alone. This is a good time for the County to write grants, possibly working with LACO Engineering. The County budget was impacted by unexpected employee health insurance costs and there is not much room to hire employees for a water agency, despite the funds received from PG&E. 

Dashiell reported that the late spring rains benefitted the Noyo River, which supplies part of Ft. Bragg’s water. If water hauling is needed it probably won’t be until August. 

Next Round of Funding from State Department of Water Resources

Ashley Gilreath, of the Financial Assistance Branch and Alena Misaghi of the Small Communities Drought Relief Program said that this year’s funding is coming to a close, but they are expecting another round of funding from the legislature. They urged anyone interested to review requirements and submit applications early in the funding process.

Sales Tax Update

Haschak and McGourty reported on the discussion at the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting regarding the 3/8 cent Measure B sales tax that will sunset this year. The County is trying to find a dedicated source of money to support fire departments and water needs. There are 21 different fire agencies in the County, some of which are badly underfunded and have difficulty recruiting volunteers. The library supporters want to use a portion of this tax to upgrade the county libraries and it is anticipated that they will collect enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot in November. The Board of Supervisors can also draft ballot measures, and is considering a measure to use the tax for fire and water uses, with 60% going to fire and 40% going to water. New tax measures will not be popular in this economic environment, so the Supervisors are considering a ballot measure to allot the 3/8 cent that the taxpayers are accustomed to paying.

Commercial Well Ordinance

Haschak and McGourty reported on the discussion at the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting regarding a potential commercial well ordinance. There is a need to monitor commercial wells, but how would this be enforced? The new potential County Water Agency is not yet formed and the County would have to rely on Code Enforcement personnel for this. Currently, to apply for a commercial well drilling permit, the application would be submitted to Planning and Building Services and transitioned to Environmental Health. Commercial wells should require hydrological studies (approximately $25,000), drilling costs (approximately $50,000 to $60,000), and installation of equipment (approximately $20,000). Because of the drought emergency, the state wants counties to monitor new commercial wells. A new ordinance would require County Counsel to prepare the ordinance and Code Enforcement to monitor compliance. Staff could be overloaded to the point they cannot perform.

Discussion of Need for Water Stakeholder Meeting

Dashiell proposed meeting with stakeholders in months that this ad-hoc committee doesn’t meet (every other month).

Q&A 

Does the County offer rebate to homeowners who install graywater systems or catchment systems? County Environmental Health has a graywater brochure and information about rainwater harvesting.

Does the County allow composting toilets? Contact the Environmental Health Department for information.

What is the status of the Boonville water and sewage plan? Moving slowly. They have contracts with well owners, with some holdouts. There are three monitoring wells in Boonville. There is not yet a site for the wastewater facility.

Is there a way to prioritize enforcement on unpermitted cannabis grows that are interfering with neighbors’ wells? Haschak and McGourty said to contact them about this issue and they will alert Code Enforcement.

John Almida noted that MendoFever posted the statement by Lake County Supervisor Eddie Crandell against potential dam removal at Lake Pillsbury. The County should keep water under the Department of Transportation and not create a stand-alone agency, and instead work more closely with the State DWR.

Dr. Andrew Coren, County Public Health Officer, wanted to know if a study of water needs by geographic area has been done. McGourty responded that Redwood Valley and Gualala cannot build new housing because new hookups are not allowed. Ukiah is in much better shape with ample groundwater and a water recycling program.

Next Meeting: August 18, 2022 at 4:00 p.m. 

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

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