Digging into drought

The Mamas and the Papas famously sang, “It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya? It pours, man, it pours.”

Well, these days, not so much.

In an average year, as the page 1 story explains, Sonoma should see about 33 inches of rain. This year the total is 7.6 inches, with no rain in sight through the start of the New Year.

Drought cycles are not uncommon in California and droughts of the modern era – notably during the Dust Bowl years into the 1930s, 1976 to 1978 and 1987 to 1992 – were actually short-lived compared to epic droughts in medieval times, some of which are believed to have lasted more than 100 years, with far greater severity than those of the modern era.

Layered on top of what some scientists believe is a more systemically dry history than a wet one, California is also now confronting the projected effects of climate change, with the paradoxical impact of higher sea levels but less rain and snowpack in the Sierra.

That said, the Old Farmer’s Almanac claims January will usher in heavy rain during the second week of the month while the entire winter will be “much rainier and cooler than normal.”

The rival Farmer’s Almanac claims this winter will be “cool with near-normal precipitation.”

Critics claim the accuracy of both publications is about 50 percent, equivalent to a coin toss, so planning water consumption on either almanac could lead to trouble. That’s why the Sonoma County Water Agency is actively promoting its 20-gallon challenge, inviting residents to save 20 gallons of water a day through a long list of water-saving actions that can be easily followed in any household.

They include not leaving water running while brushing teeth (8 gallons); shortening showers by 2 minutes (5 gallons); installing aerators with flow restrictors on kitchen and bathroom faucets (14 gallons); installing a “smart” irrigation controller to adjust lawn watering based on weather (40 gallons); reducing lawn and garden irrigation time by 2 minutes (100 gallons).

In 2008, Sonoma’s per capita water use per day was 262 gallons, the highest in the county. Rohnert Park had the lowest at 139 gallons.

A conservation target of 20 gallons a day should be painless, a matter of changing a few bad habits. But unless we all adopt those kinds of practices permanently, we may well find ourselves inside the dry embrace of a permanent drought. You’ll find water-saving tips on the SCWA website (scwa.ca.gov/conservation).

The gift of Suzanne Brangham

The Sonoma Valley is blessed with many unique gifts, none more treasured than the citizens annually chosen to serve as alcaldes and alcaldessas. The honorary titles – equivalent to a Spanish magistrate – are bestowed on those among us who give the most to enrich everyone’s lives. On Monday the silver-headed cane was passed from one remarkable couple – Les and Judy Vadasz – to another luminous presence, with the organizing energy of an army.

Her name is Suzanne Brangham and if you don’t know who she is you haven’t lived here more than a week. The details are on page 1, but the important facts are a thousand-watt smile, limitless generosity, infinite charm, a loving heart and a compulsion to help.

As many have remarked about her selection, it’s about time. We agree.

Congratulations Suzanne.