The following was excerpted from Resilience in a Time of Drought: A Guide for Collective Action in North Coast Watersheds (2014).
From 2005-2013, a water conservation pilot project was implemented by Sanctuary Forest in the Mattole headwaters for the purposes of addressing low summertime water flows that impact rural residents and sensitive aquatic species. Following a “water storage and forbearance” concept, they recruited eighteen landowners to voluntarily sign a legal agreement with Sanctuary Forest to store water from the Mattole River during the high flows of the winter season, and to forbear from pumping during the dry season by using the stored winter water from their tanks during low flows. In exchange for the legally binding water forbearance agreement, Sanctuary Forest coordinated the purchasing and installation of government subsidized 50,000-gallon Pioneer water storage tanks on the private properties of the participating landowners. After placing the large storage tanks in critical fish habitat reaches that overlapped with private property, the landowners were able to store plentiful winter water for their domestic and agricultural needs—often more than enough to last them through 105 days of low summer flows. Sanctuary Forest maintained regular communication with the participating landowners throughout the year, and would notify each household when it was time to turn off their pumps for the season. Sanctuary Forest’s water storage and forbearance efforts resulted in measurable improvements in streamflows. In low flow years prior to program implementation (2004 & 2006), flows dropped to 0-3 gallons per minute (gpm) at MS6, the measure point at the downstream end of the program area. Post-implementation in low flow years (2011, 2012 & 2013), flows were measured at 49-206 gpm. The threshold flow when pools become disconnected is 90 gpm and therefore the increase in flows from turning off the pumps was significant for fish and wildlife.
Early in 2013, Sanctuary Forest and Salmonid Restoration Federation initiated a study to determine the feasibility of conducting a “technology transfer” of Sanctuary Forest’s Mattole headwaters water storage and forbearance program to Redwood Creek on the South Fork Eel River in Northern California. Redwood Creek is a 26 square-mile watershed that flows into the South Fork of the Eel River near Redway, California; it also happens to be located adjacent to the Mattole watershed, and suffers from many of the same cumulative impacts that have led to serious concerns about low summertime flows. To address these concerns, the Redwood Creek Water Conservation Project was designed in order to gather data about low flows in the watershed, to gauge community interest in establishing a voluntary water conservation program similar to the one in the Mattole, and to understand the type of water conservation program that might be appropriate for the Redwood Creek watershed and its rural residents.