With recent rains, it’s easy to forget California is still facing a drought. Yet in Sonoma County, this has been one of the driest years on record, with diminished reservoir levels driving voluntary water conservation, with the possibility of mandatory cutbacks looming.
“Rain gives people the false sense of security that we don’t have a drought because it is raining,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin. But, she added, the forecast for the next few months leads officials to expect that the drought is severe and is going to be “very challenging” come this summer.
In Sonoma Valley, the declining groundwater supply is intensifying water scarcity and creating even more official concern about future solutions for the area’s water supply.
Gorin, the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Sonoma Valley Basin Advisory Panel, will host a public meeting Monday, March 31, to discuss water supply levels in the Valley.
There are two large depressions of groundwater in Sonoma Valley, according to the water agency, with deep wells where more water is being pumped out than is recharged. The areas most affected by these depressions are in El Verano and southeast of the city limits, and are used for rural, residential and agricultural wells. Groundwater management studies from the last five years indicate these depressions have worsened, with diminishing aquifer yield and saline intrusion, especially in the southern part of the Valley.
Sonoma Valley gets a little more than half its supply from groundwater and the rest from the Russian River through the SCWA-managed reservoir at Lake Sonoma. Increased environmental concerns and fish protections have impacted the flow of Russian River water to the Valley.
“Across California, groundwater basins are showing signs of decline, exacerbated by this year’s dry conditions. Sonoma Valley is no exception – we’ve continued to see groundwater declines over the last decade or more,” said Tito Sasaki, president of the North Bay Agriculture Alliance and a Basin Advisory Panel member. “It’s imperative that citizens, in particular land and well owners located in southern Sonoma Valley, participate in identifying solutions to long-term groundwater depletion.”
“As this year shaped up as perhaps the driest in recordable history,” Gorin said, “it means that not only do we need to understand our constraints currently, but it means that we need to change our behaviors.”
The meeting will include an in-depth review of water supply conditions, water agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said. The first part of the meeting, he explained, will include time for attendees to pose questions to and discuss concerns with local water experts. Meeting topics include strategies to address Valley water supply needs, such as managing stormwater for groundwater recharge and banking, increased recycled water use, and increased water conservation.
Earlier this year, the water agency followed Gov. Jerry Brown’s lead with a request for a voluntary 20 percent water reduction. While Sherwood said contractors are reporting a difference in water use and citing the voluntary reduction’s effectiveness, the water agencyand regional stakeholders are still concerned about the state of the water supply.
“What people at the water agency fear is that it could be a multi-year drought and we will really be suffering over the next few years,” Gorin said.