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Natural Resources

For Immediate Release

Sonoma Water receives 2022 excellence in innovation award

Santa Rosa, CA | May 10, 2022

En español »

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) presented the first annual Excellence in Innovation Award to Sonoma Water for its Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) pilot project.

Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) is a flexible water management approach that uses data from watershed monitoring and improved weather forecasting to help water managers selectively retain or release water from reservoirs for increased resilience to droughts and floods.

“FIRO applies emerging science and technology to optimize water resources and adapt to climate change without costly infrastructure.” said James Gore, Chair of Sonoma Water’s Board of Directors. “With improved forecasting skills achieved through continued investment in research, we are actually able to store more water and still maintain the flood protection benefits of our reservoirs. This is another great example of the benefits of a multi-agency partnership that can adapt to our most challenging climate change impacts.”

In 2012, Sonoma Water began working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institute of Oceanography after winter storms resulted in the USACE releasing water from the reservoir as it encroached into Lake Mendocino’s flood pool. The severe 2012-2015 drought immediately followed, which resulted in serious reductions of water storage and river flows.

After more than six years of extensive technical and modeling analysis and annual testing, demonstrations of FIRO proved successful during the course of two very different water years — Water Year 2019 was relatively wet and Water Year 2020 was very dry. In both years, FIRO increased water supply benefits and managed flood risks.

In early 2020, Sonoma Water saved 11,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino (20% of its water capacity at the time) by implementing a deviation request that allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) decision support tools. This was an enormous water supply reliability effort and the first of its kind in the nation.

“Projects like these are so important in addressing climate change impacts, including more severe and prolonged droughts,” said ACWA President Pamela Tobin. “The successful and collaborative work done on Lake Mendocino, utilizing science, technology and advances in forecasting, is groundbreaking and serves as a model that can be tested at reservoirs throughout California.”

ACWA’s Excellence in Innovation Award is a new annual award program that recognizes outstanding innovations by public water agencies. The award, sponsored by CDM Smith, was presented during ACWA’s 2022 Spring Conference & Exhibition in Sacramento, where approximately 1,300 leaders from local water agencies in California gathered for programs and panel discussions on a variety of key water issues.

The other finalists for this year’s award were:

  • Eastern Municipal Water District’s Closed Circuit Reverse Osmosis System: Utilizing technology to remove salts while producing a high recovery rate in treatment of recycled water.
  • Rainbow Municipal Water District’s Rapid Aerial Water Supply: To mitigate the response time for water drops and to provide a constant source of water for aerial firefighting.
  • San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District’s Plunge Creek Conservation Project: Restoring the natural 208-acre habitat of the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat while enhancing groundwater recharge.

For more information about ACWA’s awards programs, please visit

For more information about Sonoma Water’s FIRO project, please visit

Contact Information

Ann DuBay
Community & Government Affairs Manager
Water Agency
(707) 524-8378