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Despite earlier state orders preventing hundreds of water rights holders from drawing from the Russian River, the water level in Lake Mendocino fell below 20,000 acre feet last week.

Officials with the Sonoma County Water Agency said Friday that they had hoped the water level would stay above 20,000 acre feet until at least Oct. 1, the start of the fall-winter rain season.

“We were hopeful that continued conservation among water users in the Russian River watershed could keep us above that conservation goal in Lake Mendocino,” said Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Board of Directors Chair Lynda Hopkins.

“Unfortunately, the water-saving efforts in the Upper Russian River have not been enough, even with state action being taken to curtail water rights,” Hopkins said.

In early August, the State Water Resources Control Board issued orders preventing water draws for 861 water rights holders in the Upper Russian River watershed and 222 rights holders in the Lower Russian River.

“(Lake Mendocino) is declining much faster than anticipated,” Erik Ekdahl, deputy director for the Division of Water Rights, said at the time.

Without restricting the amount of water drawn from the watershed, Lake Mendocino could be entirely empty by the end of the year, Ekdahl said.

Near historic lows

Lake Mendocino has dropped below 20,000 acre feet only once before, in 1977, said Sonoma Water spokesperson Barry Dugan.

“Water managers fear that as water levels drop in Lake Mendocino reservoir releases will not be able to meet minimum stream flows for fisheries and meet the human health and safety needs of downstream municipal users,” Sonoma Water officials said in a news release.

“In addition, there is concern that as the reservoir levels drop there may be a decline in water quality for downstream water users,” according to the release.

Officials are calling on all water users to continue reducing the amount of water they consume in the hope of preserving as much as possible as the drought drags on.

“Recognizing the limits of our water supply, we must work together to continue to reduce consumption along the entire Russian River,” said Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Director James Gore.

The Russian River watershed flows through Sonoma and Mendocino counties and provides water for cities, farms, wineries and private wells.

Sonoma Water, which provides drinking water to more than 600,000 customers in the North Bay, has reduced its diversions from the Russian River by more than 20 percent, according to the release.