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City council, water agency asking for conservation

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The Sonoma City Council and the Sonoma County Water Agency are asking for voluntary water conservation as water becomes more precious in the wake of one of the most severe statewide droughts, marking the region’s first wintertime conservation effort.

Monday, water agency General Manager Grant Davis called on residents in the areas the agency serves – the cities of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Sonoma, Cotati, the Town of Windsor, and the Valley of the Moon, North Marin and Marin Municipal water districts – asking for a 20-percent reduction in water use.

At Monday night’s city council meeting, councilmembers were slated to hear a proposal for a voluntary 15-percent citywide water reduction, City Engineer and Director of Public Works Dan Takasugi told the Index-Tribune last week.

Both the water agency’s and the city’s requests come after Gov. Jerry Brown asked California residents for a 20-percent voluntary water use reduction in his January emergency drought declaration.

“A voluntary 20-percent reduction will save 3 billion gallons of water this year,” Davis said, also indicating SCWA’s finance team will factor the reduction into the upcoming year’s budget, since water sales will decline.

The agency’s two water supply reservoirs, Lake Sonoma – which serves the City of Sonoma – and Lake Mendocino, remain historically low. Lake Sonoma’s storage is currently at 65 percent capacity. Lake Mendocino, which is comparatively smaller and serves cities such as Geyserville and Healdsburg, along with areas in Mendocino County, is at a critically-low 36 percent capacity. According to SCWA director and Sonoma County 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo, conditions are worse than during the 1977 drought, during which mandatory conservation was eventually implemented. The area needs a minimum of 13 inches of rain to even get to the conditions of 1977, Carrillo noted.

On Monday morning, 1st District Supervisor and water agency director Susan Gorin said she expected to hear a discussion at the Feb. 3 city council meeting about the city’s proposed 15-percent reduction, as opposed to the 20 percent Gov. Brown called for.

Takasugi said city code is the reason for a 15-percent reduction rather than a 20-percent reduction. If the city were to amend the code on water shortages to increase the reduction effort to 20 percent, he explained, it would take at least a month. “In the end it doesn’t make much of a difference,” Takasugi said. “We will use all available measures at our disposal to urge the maximum amount of voluntary conservation.”

Gorin said the water agency is working to spread conservation awareness not only to county residents but also throughout the agricultural, landscaping and hospitality industries.

In 2009, Gorin said, the area faced a drought situation and asked for 15-percent voluntary reduction, but it actually achieved 25-percent reduction.

Takasugi and Gorin say the voluntary conservation efforts will be reevaluated this spring, along with area rainfall and reservoir levels, to determine if mandatory conservation is needed.

For more information on the drought, or details from the water agency’s monitoring efforts, go to sonomacountywater.org. For more information on conservation and ways to save water, visit wateroff.org.