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Local News

Redwood Valley receives emergency water transfer

A green lake nestled into a valley with oak woodlands and vineyards, seen from above.
Lake Mendocino, seen from above on May 20.

Redwood Valley, which got no agricultural water this year and is on a human health and safety conservation mandate, accepted 400 acre feet of water relinquished by Rogina Water District.

September 12, 2022 — If you stand on a ridge in Redwood Valley just off of Highway 20, you can see Lake Mendocino, which was at 63% of its target storage last week.

But Redwood Valley doesn’t have any rights to the water in the nearby lake. Adam Gaska, a director on the board of the Redwood Valley County Water District, says that the community has never been able to procure a right to the water behind Coyote Valley Dam or be annexed into the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, a water wholesaler that sells water stored in Lake Mendocino to many of the small water districts in the area. “So there is no real easy way for us to get water from Lake Mendocino, whether there is water in there or not,” he reasons. In the past, Redwood Valley has been able to get surplus water from Sonoma County or the Flood Control District, but this year, that water has been fully contracted. “So the only way we can get water from them is if there’s uncontracted water available. Which is probably never going to happen again,” Gaska concludes.

The community is supposed to be using 55 gallons of water per person per day for human health and safety purposes, but ag water connections have been shut off entirely.

Last Tuesday, at the height of the heat wave, when temperatures in nearby Ukiah soared to 117 degrees, Gaska reported that the water district held a special meeting to approve an emergency transfer of 400 acre feet from the Flood Control District. The water was purchased by the Rogina Water District, which relinquished that portion of its allotment. Rogina will get a credit for the water it relinquished, and Redwood Valley will pay the Flood Control District $47 an acre foot for the right to pump the water from Lake Mendocino, which it began doing immediately.

Even though the grape vines have been dry all summer, it might not be too late to keep them going if they get a drink now. There are about 200 agricultural connections in Redwood Valley, which people use for vines as well as stock, pasture, and vegetable gardens. The district has two separate systems, one where the water is treated for domestic use and the other for agriculture. Though Redwood Valley was not able to get any ag water this year, last year the community got 275 acre feet, mostly for frost protection in March and April. Gaska said that before water was so tight, Redwood Valley typically used 700-900 acre feet of water per year. He expects the transferred water will mostly be used for agriculture, but that some of it will go through the treatment plant. He added that for the past year and a half, most of the district’s water has come from the Millview water district, much of it by way of a well at Masonite. “There’s a limitation on the volume of water that can come through there because the intertie between our two districts is a six-inch pipe,” he explained. But in the last few weeks, people have eased up on conserving water. “I don’t know if it’s drought weariness, or the heat, or what,” Gaska acknowledged.

There is precedent for this type of transfer. Ukiah and Millview have both transferred emergency water to Redwood Valley in prior years. “Normally if you gave up your contract water, it would be made available to other contract holders first,” Gaska said. “But because there was a legal precedent, they felt like they were in a better position to directly move this water to Redwood Valley. Since we are on human health and safety, and agriculture got nothing, that constitutes an emergency.”

Redwood Valley shares staff with several other small water districts in the area. Gaska hopes that, even though those districts have also been curtailed due to the drought, they might be able to arrange a purchase agreement to buy whatever water the neighbors can spare. Until there’s a long term solution, he says the plan is to “nickel and dime our way into hopefully a little more water security than we have now. Which is not anything. We don’t have water security.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.