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Water, Wells & Water Hauling

More good news on the weather and drought fronts.

While all of California is classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as being in a ”severe drought” or “extreme drought”, we’re fortunate here in Laytonville’s Long Valley to have an aquifer that’s been recharged once again by Mother Nature, just as it was last year when we received the lowest rainfall ever, a little over 29 inches.

Although forecasts for this year correctly called for another year of dry weather, I predicted in my annual August forecast that Northern Mendocino County would most likely see an increase in precipitation this rain year compared to last year’s drought bummer.

I said I thought we’d get at least 40 inches of precipitation that is about two-thirds of our historical average of 67 inches.

In the past 10 days, starting on a week ago Monday, we received .76 inches of combined rain, snow, and sleet. Then from Wednesday through Tuesday, April 19th, another 3.40 inches fell, which left us standing with a combined total of 4.16 inches from the three storm events. It also pushed us to a season total of 42.51 inches, thus hitting the 40-inches predicted back in the late summer.

I just lucked out with my forecast, it pays it to be Irish I guess.

So with another two-and-a half months of the rain season left we’ll be getting a few more wet storms passing through. 

The forecast for the next two weeks is showing maybe three days of probable light to moderate rain, so we can probably expect to end up perhaps hitting the 45-inch mark.

Last year at this time we had only 28 inches and would end up with a season total of 29 inches, the lowest rainfall ever recorded.

This is all great news, because once again our Valley aquifer is recharged, just as it was last year with that record-low rainfall.

Let me say it again, this is great news!

* * *

Last week I ran you up to speed on a couple of undertakings I’m involved with growing out of the drought.

The Board of Supervisors last year created a body called the Ad Hoc Drought Committee overseen by Supes John Haschak and Glenn McGourty. 

This committee is looking at various issues related to groundwater including existing wells, drilling new wells, water hauling, and reviving the County Water Agency that was tombstoned a decade ago. The Water Agency issue is actually a separate committee endeavor and process, and we haven’t held a meeting yet. Which is fine with me because Mendocino County does not own a single water right to a single drop of water in this county. So by my reckoning, while a functioning Water Agency may be worthwhile to re-establish, we have larger fish to fry at this time. A Water Agency steering committee has been formed to come up with recommendations to re-raise the defunct agency, and at the end of the month we hold our first meeting. I’ll keep you current on any developments.

I have been working on these water issues with many different people including representatives from water districts, water haulers, ranching, farming, law enforcement, environmental health, and concerned citizens, trying to figure out how to best address these problems.

We meet on a monthly basis for about 60-to-90 minutes, and we’ve been able to put together some recommendations regarding water wells and water hauling that include a general framework of proposed rules and procedures. We’re probably setting a record for brevity of meetings that so far have been very productive, a dynamic that is unheard of (at least in this county). I’ll take some very minor credit for that being the case so far because at our very first meeting I presented a general framework that focused on start use at the water source (private sector wells and local government water utilities, continuing through middle use (water hauling), to end use (water delivery to end user property). More work needs to be done but we’ve made a start at attempting to exercise more monitoring and control over some tough problems that are major concerns of many county residents.

For example, we need to develop standard conditions and guidelines for drilling commercial water wells. Private sector owner/operators of commercial wells should be required to obtain a use permit, business license, perform a hydrological study, maintain records of metering, water sold, who it’s sold to, etc. Likewise commercial water haulers should be required to obtain business licenses and tracking logs detailing gallons of water hauled and location of water deliveries, and would be prohibited from after-dark hauling. 

The main reason the process is working so far is because most of the folks participating actually know what they’re talking about due to their practical experience in dealing with different aspects of water policy and water operations. To date, there’s been no evidence of hidden agendas or political bamboozling. Neither Haschak nor McGourty have been a problem, not that I ever expected them to be. In fact, they have supported and endorsed damn near all of the advice and recommendations from committee participants. 

Most importantly, they also listen a hell of a lot more than they talk at our meetings.

And that squares with my belief that there was a reason why the Creator gave us two ears but just one mouth.

Water Curtailments in the Russian River 

Farmers and ranchers in the Russian River watershed are likely to see continued restrictions on irrigation supplies this year. State water officials are seeking to extend a 2021 curtailment order for Russian River water diversions. The state plans to revise its emergency drought regulations next month. Farm Bureaus in Mendocino and Sonoma counties are proposing an alternative plan that would incorporate a volunteer, locally driven water conservation program. 

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

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