Alternative watering methods may increase in importance as the California drought continues and the push to conserve grows.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency Jan. 17 after three consecutive dry years, calling 2013 the driest year in California history. In Sonoma County, 7.67 inches of rain fell in 2013, marking 20 percent of the area’s average rainfall, and reservoirs across the state, including Sonoma County Water Agency-managed Lake Mendocino, are critically low. State officials are reporting rivers and reservoirs are below record lows and the state’s snowpack is at only 20 percent of its average for January.
While announcing the drought emergency, the governor asked Californians – residents and businesses alike – to curb water usage by 20 percent in an effort to conserve.
Sonoma County 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin said the county has weathered a drought situation in the past in which water usage was cut back by 15 percent through voluntary efforts.
For now, water conservation is voluntary, but if the drought continues, water managers, including the City of Sonoma and Valley of the Moon Water District, could implement mandatory conservation through Urban Water Management Plans.
Sonoma County, Gorin said, is looking at various conservation strategies to meet the governor’s request for 20 percent reduction. “We need to convince folks in Sonoma County that this (drought) is serious,” Gorin said. “They need to make changes indoors and outdoors to save water.”
A first step toward conservation, Gorin noted, is modifying irrigation methods.
Terry Melberg, who supervises upkeep of the City of Sonoma’s parks, said the city uses slow-rate watering methods on newly planted trees, especially those along the streets and without a nearby irrigation system.
Melberg said that, while there has been no official direction for the city to cut back on watering, city staff are trying to be as efficient as possible, particularly when deciding what type of new plants to put in. He and his team are also trying to mitigate water usage by watering less frequently.
When new trees are planted, like those in the recent Depot Park bike path renovation project, the city uses water bags that are filled with water, zipped together and placed around a tree’s roots to slowly release water. Melberg said these bags are commonly seen during warmer weather on streets such as Andrieux at Second Street West, which have newer trees and are maintained by the city. In cooler weather, when most plants are dormant and require little to no water, the bags are removed for optimal conservation.
Melberg said the city is still working to figure out what the drought means for planting and plant upkeep. “If we don’t get some serious rain in the coming months,” he said, “we may have to let the grass go and just focus on watering just enough to keep trees and shrubs alive.”
“The thing is, when we have the same amount of rainfall every year and more people, or more need, every year, regardless of drought, we are still going to need more water,” said Joe Paternoster, co-owner of DriWater, a Santa Rosa-based company that has provided alternative watering methods since 1995.