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Sonoma continues to lag in water conservation efforts

The city of Sonoma has seen a 15.3% reduction instead of the 20% sought by state water officials, but things are better in the Valley of the Moon Water District.|

The rolling, grassy hills of Sonoma Valley turned their iconic color of California blonde months ago as the parched landscape and its residents wait for the first significant rainfall, which may be months away amid the state’s mega drought.

But a year after being named one of the worst performing cities in Sonoma County in terms of water conservation, according to California state water resource control board data, the city of Sonoma is starting to catch up, although more drops are needed to meet local conservation goals.

In November 2021, the Press Democrat reported the city of Sonoma had only reduced its water use by 3.8% from its levels in 2020 — a far cry from the 20% reduction called for by state and local water board officials. A year later however, city residents have put more effort into turning off the tap.

“City water customers’ water conservation efforts from July 2021 through June 2022 have resulted in a 15.3% overall reduction in water use,” the city water department shared. “Our goal is to reach a 20% overall reduction.”

It may have helped that the city provided 21 water waste enforcements over the past year, according to city water conservation coordinator Mike Brett, targeting scofflaws of the city’s water usage rules. The city met its goals in February (20.1%), the only month to hit the target in 2022. But with much smaller reductions in January (6.2%), March (4.5%) and May (9.1%), there is still work to be done to see a 20% reduction citywide this year.

Things are fairing better over in the Valley of the Moon Water District to the north of the city, which is meeting conservation goals. Water usage “is down 30% both for the month of May and year-to-date,” the district reported at its August board meeting. VOMWD General Manager Matt Fullner credited residents with meeting the challenge.

“Valley of the Moon Water District has been under stage-two drought restrictions since July of 2021 … which stipulates a 20% reduction in diversions from the Russian River over 2020 figures,” Fullner said. “Our (VOMWD) customers are doing a great job and are on track to meet and exceed the conservation targets once again this year.”

Valley of the Moon Water District’s water conservation rules

• Washing sidewalks, walkways, driveways, parking lots and other hard-surfaced areas by direct hosing is prohibited, unless necessary for public health and safety.

• Breaks or leaks must be corrected within 72 hours of discovery or notice from the water district.

• Irrigation in a manner that allows excessive runoff of water, or unreasonably over-sprays the area of irrigation is prohibited.

• Use of potable water for non-recycling decorative water fountains is prohibited.

• Use of water for new, non-recirculating conveyor car wash systems is prohibited.

• Use of water for new non-recirculating industrial clothes wash systems is prohibited.

• Restaurants may only serve water upon request.

• Hotels and lodging establishments must offer a linen service opt-out.

• Irrigation of ornamental turf on public street medians with potable water is prohibited.

• Irrigation with potable water outside of newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or microspray systems is prohibited.

• Use of any garden or utility hose without a hose-end shut-off nozzle is prohibited.

• Irrigation is limited to three days per week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and between the hours of midnight to 6 a.m.

• Instead of using potable water, only recycled water may be used for construction dust control.

• Car washing shall be allowed only at facilities using recycled or recirculating water.

• Dedicated irrigation customers are required to conduct the District’s irrigation survey.

• Use of water from a fire hydrant except for fighting fires is prohibited.

The city of Sonoma sits in the middle of the pack in water conservation among Sonoma County cities. The best of which, Healdsburg, has shrunk its per capita water use 36% from 2020 levels. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Rohnert Park is currently failing to meet current drought standards with a 2% reduction from its 2020 water use levels.

The water cutbacks by Sonoma County cities help to preserve stored water in the region’s two major reservoirs, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, during the dry season.

“Lake Sonoma relies on rainfall to fill and supports a dynamic and fragile ecosystem … Lake Sonoma provides a majority of Sonoma Water's service area with its drinking water,” Sonoma Water’s website reads.

Still, the reservoirs are below the capacity they reached in 2020 when the initial water restrictions were announced.

A graph of the current water supply levels at the Sonoma County reservoirs Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino. Water levels in the reservoirs have improved since last year, they remain far below goals outlined by officials. (Source: Sonoma Water)
A graph of the current water supply levels at the Sonoma County reservoirs Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino. Water levels in the reservoirs have improved since last year, they remain far below goals outlined by officials. (Source: Sonoma Water)

Before the most intense heat wave of the summer begins this weekend, here are the keys to water conservation in Sonoma Valley.

Best Practices

The city stipulates residents only run sprinkler or spray irrigation systems on Monday and Thursday nights between 8 p.m. and 6 p.m.

City water officials recommend using shorter run times to allow water to fully soak into the landscape and to reduce runoff.

Finally, the city’s website tells residents to check their irrigation system to ensure there are no breaks, leaks or water waste occurs when it is on or off.

City of Sonoma enforcement

1st Violation: A phone call notification of the water restriction violation will be sent to the property owner.

2nd Violation: City confirms violation confirmed with a date and time stamped photo and a yellow door tag will be placed on the property with the water restriction violation.

3rd Violation: City confirms violation with date and time stamped photo and a red door tag is placed on the property with the water restriction violation.

4th Violation: The confirms the violation with a date and time stamped photo and the property owner is subject to a misdemeanor and fines up to $1,000.

Sonoma County officials will hold their fifth virtual town hall on the drought at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1. Experts will report on the relationship between the drought, climate change and wildfire. They will also describe an innovative project to store water in underground aquifers for use in future droughts. Find the details to join at sonomacity.org.

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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