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Drought Notes

Will Potter Valley grapes and pasture get all the remaining Russian River water?

The Potter Valley Irrigation District was in the news last week when the Ukiah Daily Journal's Karen Rifkin wrote about the disappearance of electrical power from PG&E’s Potter Valley Project “power(less)house.” 

Rifkin quoted a PG&E “Principal, Marketing & Communications” guy named Paul Moreno based in Chico saying, “We’re not generating power now because of the critically dry year; there’s not enough water to spin the turbines.” Moreno goes on to bluntly note that the water from the Potter Valley Project “created what used to be dry pasture land into good farms which today are mostly vineyards.”

Moreno could have also said that the pre-automobile apparatus is no longer worth PG&E's time and effort in maintaining it.

Which in turn sent us off to the Potter Valley Vineyard, er Irrigation District’s website where we learned, as we suspected but didn’t think we’d see written down even tangentially, that “PVID will make every effort to hold the length of extension of our scheduled delivery rotation times from our normal 12 to 14 days to between 21 and 23 days.” (An apparent reference to a reduction in frequency of water being sold and delivered to Potter Valley water irrigators.)

There may be other interpretations of this, but the “make every effort” translates into making every effort to postpone and limit reductions in irrigation water delivery as much as possible during a severe drought.

We’re used to this from the inland Cheap Water Mafia: In the face of this year’s severe drought, they have actively and successfully opposed and delayed any mandated water restrictions so they can get as much of what’s left for themselves as soon as possible before the water is all the way gone.

This kind of self-interest is understandable in normal rain years, but in a drought it’s downright irresponsible.

As we have noted in the past, if the PVID had charged a reasonable amount for the essentially free water they give away to their vineyard and pasture land customers, they could have used it as seed money for water storage projects. But these short-sighted grape growers and old-fashioned pasture land owners have never looked beyond the current artificially cheap water year, and no such projects have ever been developed or proposed. (Some private ponds have been built, but they are for irrigation and frost protection, not long-term storage.)

It was obvious back in February that 2021 was going to be an record dry year, yet the CWM literally “made every effort” to postpone the water emergency declaration and even when it did that declaration remained (and remains) voluntary. Nothing serious was done to prepare for or manage the severe water shortages until the state water board issued notices of intent to restrict water diversions from the Eel/Russian Rivers this week. Which, as Friends of the Eel Director David Keller noted a few weeks ago, “We’re starting way too late, and it’s just going to get a lot worse.” 

And now, weeks later, there are still no mandatory reductions issued by the Irrigation District besides the ones imposed on them by the simple lack of water. The drought is upon us and it is a lot worse. The state has issued some long-delayed restrictions on downstream Russian River diversions, but not on the Potter Valley Irrigation District. All the PVID has done is notify their customers that they will only deliver a percentage of their available water based on acreage irrigated “until it is either gone or readjusted by PG&E.”

Remember, the Potter Valley Irrigation District has water rights to take up to 19,000 acre-feet of water. This year, they only expect to get about 9,000 acre-feet. And they are upstream of the historically low Lake Mendocino which depends heavily on how much diverted Eel River Water gets past the Irrigation District. The Cheap Water Mafia would like us to think that the dwindling water level in Lake Mendocino is simply due to a lack of rain. But it’s also low because of the amount of water taken by the Irrigation District.

This “we want ours now first” attitude is a thumb in the eye to downstream domestic Russian River water customers (who draw heavily from Lake Mendocino) who have human beings to provide water to. But if the PVID has its way, much of that dwindling supply of water will be gone soon.

Reading further in the PVID’s on-line materials we see that their allocations are based on four acreage categories of irrigation customers: Grapes, Pasture, Pears and Row Crops. Of that, grapes and pasture represent 91% of their irrigated acreage. 

So if you are downstream of the Potter Valley Irrigation District’s stated policy of watering grapes and pasture “until it is gone or readjusted by PG&E,” you better get used to brushing your teeth with dry tooth powder and flushing your toilet with whatever you can salvage from your one-minute shower.

PS. Interesting history note from the Irrigation District’s history page: “1870-1924 — The families that settled Potter Valley depended on stock raising and dry farming (wheat, barley, and later watermelons) for their livelihood.”

Then the Chinese dug the tunnel in the early 1900s, and…

“April 14,1924 — A petition was presented to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors by A.F. Whittaker for the organization of the Potter Valley Irrigation District pursuant to an election held April 1,1924, in Potter Valley with 110 votes Yes and 3 votes No.” 

The names of those three brave no voters have been lost to history. 

* * *

Drought Watch 

Steve Gomes, the Mendocino man who has sued the Mendocino Community Services (sewer and water) District for not conducting business properly and not doing enough to provide water for the town, told Marco McClean Friday night on McClean’s popular “Memo of the Air,” that the water situation in Mendocino is so bad that some people have moved out for the summer to stay with friends and relatives because they have no water. Literally. Others, Gomes said, are paying hundreds of dollars a week for trucked in water, sometimes pumping right back into their dry wells, other times into private tanks. 

Gomes also said that most of the wells in Mendocino are shallow because the town sits on a rock shelf, making it nearly impossible to drill down very far. Gomes spoke to McClean for almost an hour about his case against the town’s Services District which, Gomes insists, has not done what they should be doing because they’re “anti-growth.”

* * *

In hard-hit Redwood Valley, Redwood Valley Water District Manager Jared Walker, who also manages the tiny Millview Water District, said that RVWD has cut off all their agricultural water customers entirely and limit their 200 domestic users to just 55 gallons a day saying they will revert to dry farming. Redwood Valley has it tough even in good years because they only get “surplus water” from Lake Mendocino and of course, there’s no surplus this year. Redwood Valley now gets what little water it has from the pipe that connects them to the Millview district.

Russian River Flood Control District Director Elizabeth Salomone told the Ukiah Daily Journal Sunday that “We got caught unprepared this year because of the fires, because of the pandemic.” Salomone bluntly admitted, “We should have curtailed last year. We have communities that are and will be on only human health and safety. Calpella is moving in that direction. Hopefully for those under contract with us [the RRFCD has legal rights to some 8,000 acre-feet coming out of Lake Mendocino, but probably will get less than half of that this year], some we will be able to keep the supply adequate,” for human health and safety. Salomone added, “I believe it’s the responsibility of every resident to conserve their water use, even if just a little. … Anyone who is receiving any water from the surface of the river needs to be asking their customers to reduce, even if they have a fairly robust porftolio,” presumably a reference to Ukiah’s wells and their recycled waste water system, and perhaps to Potter Valley’s reduced but still 40% of historical levels.

The relatively new “intertie” pipe in the Ukiah Valley has helped their six or seven little districts share some of the available water, but individual legal water rights continue to complicate the situation. 

Districts with newer water rights (post-Lake Mendocino for example) will have their allocations cut before the older water rights holders such as the Potter Valley Irrigation District.

Meanwhile, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has yet to issue their expected “Emergency Regulations,” which insiders say are still more than a month off, despite the dire conditions.

* * *

Supervisors Notes

Supervisor Ted Williams’ Sheriff’s Audit agenda item was a non-starter Tuesday afternoon. After some meandering discussion about budgeting and staffing and other marginally related topics, the Supervisors decided (if you can call it a “decision”) to form an ad hoc committee of Supervisors McGourty and Williams to “look into” setting up a Sheriff’s department workshop someday to get a better understanding of the Sheriff’s budget.

A tiny group of coasties represented by a righteous woman from Gualala who nobody has ever heard of before named Miquette Thompson ran through her pro forma presentation alleging inadequate transparency in and overbudgeting for the Sheriff’s Department. Ms. Thompson said she represented an array of self-alleged racial justice groups headquartered on the Mendocino Coast. None of these vague entities had interviewed the Sheriff who goes out of his way to make himself accessible to anybody who wants to talk with him. 

Sheriff Matt Kendall did his best to contain his umbrage at the implication that his Office needs some kind of independent audit and/or service improvements, saying the presentation was ok, but that some of the information in it was “just flat wrong,” adding later that it seemed like a witch hunt, a lack of support for his dedicated deputies, and an end run around him to go directly to the Board of Supervisors by a small group of coastal residents with an anti-law enforcement agenda.

Supervisor Gjerde noted the audit advocates should have at least approached the Sheriff before coming to the Board. Gjerde, a prominent Coast Democrat of long-standing, said he wasn't invited by the Coast Democrats to discuss an audit either.

At no time did Ms. Thompson or her unnamed Coastal collaborators offer to actually review the Sheriff’s budget or approach the Sheriff with questions or input.

Although McGourty said he hadn’t heard from any of his First District constituents about the audit or anything else related to the Sheriff, both Williams and McGourty both seemed to think that the Coastal audit advocates somehow represented “the public,” even though neither of them offered any evidence that “the public” wants an audit or even has any questions about the Sheriff’s Office. In fact, as far as we can tell “the public” simply wants the Sheriff to be adequately funded, if not better funded, especially in Covelo. Even Williams agreed that the likely outcome of an audit (whatever it might have entailed) would be that the Sheriff needs more funding, not less.

PS. According to the County’s fancy “budget portal” the Sheriff has spent about $30 million through the end of April against an original $36.1 million budget. (We have no idea what goes into the $36 million or whether it includes the jail; there’s no breakdown on the “budget portal.”) But that $30 million represents 83% of the $36.1 with two months to go. Since July through April is 10 months, assuming there are no big one-time expenses coming in before June 30, the Sheriff should be at 10/12ths of $36.1 or about on budget.

* * *

On Monday the Board met with the Measure B Committee and the Behavioral Health Advisory Board to do exactly what we predicted they’d do regarding the gold-plated Psychiatric Health Facility to be built at the site of the old Whitmore Lane Nursing facility:

“The next step will probably be to ask the County’s expensive Sacramento architectural consultants to design an overpriced, gold-plated (OSHPD) remodel of Whitmore Lane, along the lines of the overpriced, gold-plated Crisis Residential four-bedroom house on Orchard Avenue. (We need spare no remodel expense because, as CEO Angelo frequently points out, the building “was not purchased with general funds dollars.”) And if the price tag turns out to be millions and millions more than anyone expected… Too late, too bad — we’re stuck with Whitmore Lane now and everybody is signed on.”

The only significant new bit of info was that Mental Health Director Dr. Jenine Miller said she guessed that demolition of most of the old nursing home and rebuilding a gold-plated 16-bed PHF out of the rubble would cost between $20 and $25 million, not counting services (and probably not counting several million in architectural fees). Which is perfectly in line with the palatial $5 million Crisis Residential four bedroom house being built on Orchard Avenue in Ukiah which shouldn’t cost more than $2 million.

One Comment

  1. Marmon June 7, 2021

    “Will Potter Valley grapes and pasture get all the remaining Russian River water?”

    A friend of mine who raises beef cattle in Potter Valley told me this morning that the irrigation district has limited him to irrigating his pastures to once every 21 days. He may have to sell some of them at auction at penny’s on a dollar because he doesn’t think his property will be able to sustain the entire herd. That’s the same thing a lot of ranchers are experiencing today.

    He’s not a bad guy folks, don’t let Mark convince you otherwise.


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