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Atmospheric River: North Bay Water Officials Wait & See On Easing Restrictions After Major Storm

HEALDSBURG (KPIX 5) – Thanks to the massive storm over the weekend, the Russian River in the North Bay is once again full of water.

As it flowed by Healdsburg on Monday, the river is once again rushing. Last week, it trickled at 35 cubic feet per second, now it's in the tens of thousands.

Residents have become good at conserving, saving up to 52% citywide. Many have been motivated by the fear of how dry Lake Mendocino, their only water supply, has looked in recent months.

"I think, maybe, some people were afraid that we would run out of water and it's important to conserve it so we will have water to drink," said water saver Judy Cobourn, who went to look out at the swollen river on Monday.

When asked if the large flow of water would change residents' minds on conserving, Cobourn responded, "It might. It might, yeah, because this is an awful lot of water."

Russian River Healdsburg Atmospheric River
The Russian River in Healdsburg following a major atmospheric river storm, October 25, 2021. (CBS)

This past summer, the state cut the amount of water the town could take from the river by 40%, but now those restrictions have been lifted until November 1st.

"It kind of gives a breather to our customers," said Healdsburg Utilities Director Terry Crowley.  "We're waiting for the November 1st reassessment from the state board before we actually go to council and ask for them to lift or ease up on any water restrictions."

Meanwhile, other North Bay water districts that can't take directly from the river rely on reservoirs that were not refilled by Sunday's downpour.

The North Marin Water District gets 75% of its water from the Russian River. But its only reservoir, Stafford Lake, only got a 2% percent boost from the storm.

"The rain was epic for October," said district GM Drew McIntyre. "But the drought has been two years in the making and while this is a good start, it's not a drought-buster by any stretch of the imagination."

Sonoma water spokesperson Barry Dugan told KPIX 5, "It's a difficult concept for all of us to really grasp, I think, when we've had eight inches of rain over the last two days and then to be told we're still in a drought."

"What this rainfall did, what this last storm did, was to really saturate the ground. So now, going forward, we're going to be able to get some good runoff every time there is a storm," Dugan went on to say.

The Bay Area has been much better at conserving water than the rest of the state. In July, the state average was only 1.8% in savings, with many Southern California cities actually using more water than the year before.

While it may be tempting to see all the water and think the drought is over, Healdsburg resident Steve Villano said his community is proud of its conservation success and thinks it has become a permanent part of life there.

"We understand that scarcity of water is the issue for our time along with climate change," Villano said, "and that we're going to do everything we possibly can to make things better."

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