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Sonoma catching up on water reduction goals

When the City of Sonoma required water customers to reduce their use, residents got off to a slow start, with just a 3.8% savings in July. But now, the city is catching up, with a 17.4% savings recorded from July to September, not to mention the wettest October in the last three years.

“Even with the recent series of storms, the region is well behind normal rainfall totals and reservoirs remain at historically low levels: The drought is not over.” That’s the message from Sonoma Water, the California Water Boards and the agencies that provide water to the Sonoma Valley.

Which means despite the torrential rainfall over the past weeks, water users should resist the impulse to celebrate with a long hot shower or an overdue car wash. The water-use reduction mandates, imposed at the beginning of the summer, are in effect for months, June through at least October, for the Valley of the Moon Water District, or to the end of the year for the City of Sonoma.

Months before summer began, local water authorities were sounding the alarm about low water storage levels in the two reservoirs that supply Russian River water to Sonoma County (including Sonoma Valley) due to extremely low rainfall. In April, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino were at 62% and 43% capacity, respectively — as of Nov. 1, those numbers sit at 49% for Lake Sonoma, 31.8% for Lake Mendocino. (Check current storage levels at sonomawater.org/current-water-supply-levels.)

Both Mendocino and Sonoma County supervisors declared a drought emergency in April, reducing water use among county employees and activities. But it wasn’t until the agencies that supply water imposed severe limits that the impact of water conservation hit home: a 20% water use reduction, system-wide, was approved when the Sonoma City Council unanimously voted to declare a State 2 Water Shortage on June 22, an action that was repeated by the Valley of the Moon Water District on July 6.

For the City, the goal was to “reduce total diversions from the Russian River by 20% compared to the same period of 2020 from July 1 through mid-December, 2021.” VOMWD’s declaration was for a shorter period of time, a 20% overall reduction in water use for the months of July through October as compared with the same period in 2020. In both cases, the goal is to reduce the reliance on Russian River water from those depleted reservoirs, which comes to the Sonoma Valley though an aqueduct.

So how well are the Valley’s water customers doing at meeting that 20% reduction goal?

Both water agencies met the goal of reducing reliance by 20%, but only by putting a thumb on the scale: they made up the difference between the goal and their own customers’ reduced water usage by drawing from well water.

“The City of Sonoma met the goal of a 20% reduction in Russian River water demand by increasing water production from City wells along with water conservation by the City’s customers,” said Colleen Ferguson, public works director.

She supplied figures showing that water conservation by the City’s water customers allowed the City to reduce water production in 2021 compared with 2020 by only 3.8% in July, but 25% in August and 23.9% in September.

Of the low July number, Ferguson said, “I think it just took a while for the City’s water customers to get the message.”

She also supplied an overall three-month average of reduced water use from July through September: 17.4%. “While it’s interesting to see how we’re doing month-to-month, the requirement is for the total duration of July through mid-December,” said Ferguson. With over two months to go, City customers must continue to conserve and reduce water usage if the City stands a chance of meeting that 20% goal.

Matt Fullner of VOMWD told the Index-Tribune, “Our customers have continued to do a great job! September of 2020 was a relatively low demand month, so attaining 20% conservation over that was a high bar.”

He broke down the September figures to a 17% customer demand reduction, plus increased operation of wells by the district, adds up to a 24% reduction in purchases from Sonoma Water (diversions from the Russian River system).

“October of 2020 was a higher demand month, so I believe we will be able to exceed the 20% reduction for this October,” said Fullner.

Last week’s record-setting rainfall has begun to show results, as water levels at Lake Mendocino are beginning to rise. Said Fullner, “The lakes are seeing inflow, which is great, but we are still a long way from being out of this thing. We are all very hopeful that there will be steady rain throughout the fall and winter that will help the lakes fully recover.”

Still, the Sonoma Water Agency advises caution. “Sonoma Water encourages people to continue to use water efficiently,” said Barry Dugan in an Oct. 22 press release for the agency. “Now is the time to adjust or turn off irrigation systems (if you haven’t already done so) and to repair leaky faucets and toilets.”

Additional water conservation tips are available at the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership website, savingwaterpartnership.org.

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