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State Water Board temporarily lifts ban on Russian River diversions

With substantial rain in the forecast, state water officials have temporarily suspended emergency orders that prevented hundreds of ranchers, farmers, grape growers, cities and wholesale suppliers from drawing water from the Russian River.

The suspension is for the entire watershed, both upper and lower reaches, and takes effect in the upper river at noon Saturday. Curtailments were lifted in the lower river Thursday, the State Water Resources Control Board said.

The reprieve is expected to last until Nov. 1 and reflects substantially elevated river flows predicted from an atmospheric river on course to hit the region Sunday. The storm system is expected to bring 6 to 8 inches of rain in the coastal hills.

Though not enough to offset the enormous storage deficit in the region’s large public reservoirs — particularly Lake Mendocino, which is nearing a record-low level — river flows will be increased enough to allow those with water rights to draw water temporarily and store it for later, if they are permitted and equipped to do so.

The state began in early June notifying more than 900 water right holders in the upper Russian River that there was too little water in the system for them to take any this year. Curtailment orders freezing river diversions eventually were issued to more than 1,800 entities, including the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale, forcing them to find other water sources and cut back on consumption to get through the second-year of drought.

Sunday’s storm will be the first since January.

Lake Mendocino remains around 12,800 acre feet, slightly above its record low level of 12,081 acre feet in November 1977.

Last winter’s scant rainfall raised the reservoir about 10,000 acre feet in total, pushing storage 36,800 acre feet by May 1, according to date from the California Department of Water Resources. It has fallen ever since, losing 24,000 acre feet in less than six months.

The lake has a capacity of 118,000 acre feet.

An acre foot is equal to 325,851 gallons — enough water to flood most of a football field 1 foot deep. An acre-foot would supply almost 3½ water-efficient California households for a year, according to the Water Education Foundation.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the time the restrictions are lifted.

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