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California Drought: Shrinking Lake Mendocino Forces Water Cuts To Sonoma County Russian River Region

HEALDSBURG (KPIX 5) -- Residents in the Russian River region of northern Sonoma County are already facing mandatory water rationing. But now, the situation has become so dire that some agricultural users are being cut off completely.

Healdsburg was ordered by the state to reduce water usage by 40 percent and the city stepped up, cutting by 54 percent over last year. But those who live there know this is just the beginning.

"People have been talking for a long time that it's going to come to a point where we don't have enough water for our city, and it's gotten to that point," said resident Mike Mead.

The problem is at Lake Mendocino northeast of Ukiah. It is the main supply of water to the upper Russian River and despite conservation efforts, it is falling as much as 58 million gallons per day. To keep it from running totally dry, the state has banned all water deliveries to agricultural users.

"It's frustrating, because, yeah, we're supposed to have a water right, but if there's a declared emergency, it's worthless," said Foppiano Vineyards co-owner Paul Foppiano.

His vineyard straddles the border of the upper and lower river region and has legal water rights dating back to 1914. After the governor declared a drought emergency, Foppiano says he received an email telling him one of his two wells, which sits on land in the upper river area, must be shut down immediately.

"They've talked about curtailing the lower Russian River Valley," he said, "And if they do that, I will lose my other pump and I won't be able to irrigate my vines at all."

But that may have already happened. Lake Mendocino has dropped so low, so fast, that regulators will soon begin cutting off water in the lower part of the river as well, leaving agricultural water users there high and dry. It's expected that officials will begin notifying those whose water will be curtailed on August 5, with the order taking effect the next day.

Foppiano hopes most of his vines will survive, but he has a warning for the cities if we have another dry year next year.

"If these reservoirs don't get replenished, we're going to be in, the residential is going to be in for a major problem," said Foppiano. "It could get kind of dangerous around here just because there's not going to be enough water for people."


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