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Water usage down as residents respond to drought

One month into county-wide emergency water conservation measures, Sonoma water users appear to be responding appropriately to the drought by reducing their water usage.

For Valley of the Moon Water District (VOMWD) customers, those new limitations were formalized at the July 6 board meeting, though residents and the water district had been conscious of conservation concerns in the weeks prior after Sonoma Water initiated a Temporary Urgency Change Order on June 14. That order required that customers meet a 20% reduction over 2020 water use.

“As the drought messaging began to reach our customers in June, they began conserving,” said VOMWD general manager Matthew Fullner. “I think our customers really understand that this is a team effort, and we’re all in it together.”

Fullner provided charts showing that while VOMWD had been producing water slightly above 2020 levels, in June usage dropped off, and in July it showed a 22% decrease from 2020. Accessing local water resources enabled VOMWD to reduce purchases from Sonoma Water by 29% compared to July the previous year.

While Public Works Director and City Engineer Colleen Ferguson said, “City staff does not yet have the data to report on the status of water usage a month into the request to cut use by 20%,” she was optimistic that city water users too are stepping up to respond.

“The most recent graph from the website shows a cumulative 24.7% reduction in diversions for the month of July, which is very good to see,” said Ferguson, citing the figures from the Sonoma Water Agency.

However, she noted that the cumulative total is for all water contractors combined. “The City of Sonoma has not yet received our July monthly bill from Sonoma Water,” she cautioned. “City staff does not yet have the data to report on the status of water usage a month into the request to cut use by 20%.”

Both the Valley of the Moon Water District and the City of Sonoma not only have wells that supply subscribers, but are themselves customers of Sonoma Water, which distributes water from the Russian River watershed. That resource includes reservoirs at both Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino – the latter fed in part by water diverted from the Eel River by the Potter Valley Project.

Overall, the portrait painted by the Sonoma Water Agency was troubling: annual rainfall to date for Santa Rosa is only 38% of average – 12.86 inches compared to the 30-year average of 34 inches. Lake Sonoma is currently holding less than half of its water supply capacity, 49.4%, while Lake Mendocino holds only 30.6% of its target water supply for this time of year.

“To date, Sonoma Water has reduced diversions from the Russian River by 24 percent compared to last year; that meets our mandated order by the State Water Resources Control Board,” the agency reported.

“We continue to do as much as we can in terms of messaging, and working with our customers,” said Barry Dugan of Sonoma Water. “It’s really up to all of us to continue doing what we can – that’s really the thing that will get us through this drought.”

Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors declared a water emergency on April 27, a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom directed state agencies to “take immediate action to bolster drought resilience and prepare for impacts on communities, businesses and ecosystems if dry conditions extend to a third year.”

Responding to questions about the healthy green turf at the Sonoma Plaza and other parks, Ferguson said, “As you know, the Plaza is a well-used area. Flexible irrigation days and times are needed to support events on the Plaza and to respond to impacts in particular areas of the park. Turf irrigation in other city parks is limited to two days per week.”

In particular, she pointed out “New turf at Sonoma Valley High School is irrigated with recycled water.”

Ferguson reminded Sonoma water customers that irrigation of lawn or turf with sprinklers or sprayers is restricted to Monday and Thursday nights between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., when loss to evaporation is at its lowest.

“No over-watering (excessive water running off properties and onto sidewalks or gutters, or ponding of water on properties) is allowed, nor is watering allowed within 48 hours of measurable rain (one-eighth inch),” she said.

Ferguson, however, noted that while no additional irrigation restrictions are planned, “Future plans depend on the success of the water contractors in reducing Russian River diversions."

Sonoma Water’s Dugan was equally noncommittal. “Hopefully we don’t get to the point where there are ‘economic disincentives,’ shall we say, but we could get to that point if we don’t do enough.”

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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