Water agency: ‘Drought is on’

In response to dry weather, low reservoir storage levels and drought-like conditions, a group of nine local water utilities is kicking off a unique winter water conservation campaign. The partnership has one simple message: The drought is on. Turn water off.

The Sonoma-Marin Water Saving Partnership, which includes the Sonoma County Water Agency and the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Windsor, and the North Marin, Valley of the Moon, and Marin water districts, hopes to increase water conservation through public outreach and water-saving tips.

“Last year was one of the driest years Sonoma County has seen in 120 years,” SCWA spokesman Brad Sherwood said. No significant rainfall is forecast through mid-January, he explained, leaving local water supply reservoirs at record lows, including the region’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. Toward the end of 2013, Lake Mendocino and its low levels became a particular concern for the agency, so much so that SCWA asked the State Water Resources Control Board to allow for reduced flows in the upper Russian River to preserve water storage during the drought.

Mendocino County’s Board of Supervisors declared a drought on Tuesday, Jan. 7, hoping to receive state funds and assistance developing a drought plan. Cities like Ukiah and Hopland use water from SCWA-managed Lake Mendocino, which is at a record low. Meanwhile, the California Department of Water Resources announced that Gov. Jerry Brown, who convened a drought assessment task force late last year, is considering declaring statewide drought as early as next month.

Sonoma Department of Public Works Director and City Engineer Dan Takasugi said the city is addressing drought conditions on a conservation front with water savings rebates and public outreach through the Sonoma-Marin Water Saving Partnership.

“In addition to those conservation measures,” Takasugi said, “we are taking extra care to watch for water waste and are closely monitoring the potential for water leakage in the city’s system.” He added the city would also cut back on parks irrigation, which will soon be noticeable as areas of dry turf appear.

The campaign, which augments the group’s existing conservation efforts, will include a series of advertisements with outdoor water conservation tips, which will rotate in local and regional publications, radio stations and online media. The advertisements take a lighthearted approach to prompting community members to conserve. One pictures a broom being pushed across the sand with the tagline, “The official hose of 2014.” Another shows a hand dripping water onto a plant with an eyedropper and reads,” “The official drip irrigation of 2014.”

Water agency Director Efren Carrillo said, “The drought is on. Turning your water off and having a dirty car is completely acceptable and shows that you are doing your part.”

“We hope this campaign will create a buzz in the local coffee shops and get our community to not only talk about saving water, but take action by following some easy water saving tips,” said Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park Councilmember and chair of the Water Advisory Committee. “Every drop of water matters at this point.”

For more information about conservation programs and water-saving tips, go to wateroff.org. To find out more on the drought, visit sonomacountywater.org/current-water-supply-levels.