Editorial: 72 gallons a day?



In Israel, annual, per-capita water use is about 100 cubic meters, or about 26,000 gallons.

Translate that into a daily water ration, and you learn that the average Israeli uses about 72 gallons a day.

Historically, Sonoma has been blessed with a comparative abundance of water, allowing a per-capita daily water consumption that stood, in 2008, at 262 gallons, almost four times that in Israel.

Of course, some parts of Israel are so hot and arid they get less than 2 inches of water a year, while others get more than 30. But Israel has far less rain, in general, and no Sierra snow bank to draw on, which is why that country relies on five, large desalination plants to provide 75 percent of its household water.

Will Sonoma’s waterscape some day resemble that of Israel? That’s a question we need to start asking ourselves, because – unless 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists are wrong – we’re headed in that direction.

If you’ve been to Israel, especially in the summertime, you know it can get very, very hot. But you also know that there is not a sense that the spigots have been welded shut or that multitudes of olive trees are drying up.

Israelis have learned to do with what they’ve got.

So should we.

In this current drought – potentially the worst on record – we still have more water per capita in California than Israel could in its wildest dreams. But we don’t use it nearly as well. And that suggests two things to us: First, there is an obvious and urgent need to double down on conservation, to whittle that 262-gallon-per-person-per-day consumption pattern down to something more sustainable.

For some mysterious reason, during the same 2008 water use survey, nearby Rohnert Park was getting by with a per-capita water consumption of 139 gallons a day.

The Sonoma County Water Agency wants us all to voluntarily reduce our consumption by a modest 20 gallons a day per-person. Shorter showers and turning off the faucet while brushing our teeth should just about do that.

But in the water future we may be entering, those steps barely scratch the surface.

Which brings us to the second suggestion: California water lines have been drawn for decades between opposing camps with contradictory solutions for our chronic water crises. One side believes in plumbing solutions, the other believes in policy. One side wants to build more dams, pipelines, storage facilities – more plumbing. The other side wants to improve regulation and management of existing water supplies before building more of anything.

We suspect the final solution will borrow from both camps, but we are convinced that it is a radical mistake to endorse plumbing solutions – like the multi-billion-dollar Delta tunnels to which Gov. Brown is now married – before we have reached science-driven consensus on the best policy practices.

California needs to explore and challenge every supply-and-demand assumption before making billion-dollar decisions. We need to honestly address the issues of abandoning marginal farmland, exploring vastly expanded investments in agricultural infrastructure like sub-surface drip irrigation, and identifying the best and highest use for all our developed and undeveloped water before making massive new capital investments.

If the rest of this winter is as dry as last year’s, we’re in trouble.

And maybe, if we’re smart, that will prove to be a good thing.

–David Bolling


  • The Village Idiot

    For those who don’t want to save water, City Council and the Chamber of Commerce has given them good reason to start doing it NOW: So Sonoma can build more big hotels in town, like the one going in on the Plaza and on Broadway and MacArthur. Surely every ordinary patriotic resident should be more than happy to cut back on showering, bathing, toilet-flushing, cooking, shaving and washing the kids and the dog so tourists — tourists — from places like Missouri, Ohio, Louisiana and China can come here to escape their annual flooding problems, and so local multi-millionaire businesses can make a fortune. When tourists arrive, they need to be able to take luxurious hot showers, go to the bathroom, shave and drink lots of wine in our soon-to-be 1,437,287 tasting rooms. That wine, after all, is carefully hand crafted and served by low-paid residents employed by millionaire wineries pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water out of the ground that would otherwise only be wasted on the unwashed scum who live here. And vote.

  • Phineas Worthington

    I think better billion dollars investments would be in producing new resources of water from recycled waste water and desalination. And we don’t need to burden taxpayers if management of water supplies is returned to the markets away from governments and legal utility monopolies.

    • The Village Idiot

      The height (or depth) of stupidity. Privatize water so private corporations can suck water out of the peoples’ rivers, oceans, and ground and then charge the public ‘whatever the market will bear’ — -for water that falls from the sky? An excellent way for far-right ideologues to finally rid us of the poor, who would eventually die dirty and quietly of thirst.

    • Chris Scott

      What do you mean, “water supplies returned to the markets”?

  • Ma Kettle

    Commercial water bills are billed out at a flat rate so they can use as much water as they want. An average hotel guest uses 32 gallons per day (shower, toilet…) so a 49 room hotel would use up 47,040 gallons of water a month by just showering and using the toilet. Wonder how much the resturant(s) at the hotels would use. Plus, their flat rate is measured by winter use not summer use when the hotels are actually full. Such a scam. We are told to conserve water but the hotels can use as much water as they want. Don’t the developers have 3 hotels planned for Sonoma? What is wrong with the people controling this town? The French Disaster Hotel, The Bank of America Hotel and The Broadway Lets Bulldoze The Old High School Hotel…..