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Editorial: Sonoma County faces bleak reality

The observation, “this is without precedent,” is rarely followed by good news.

And thus was the case this week when Gov. Gavin Newsom uttered the phrase from the parched bed of Lake Mendocino as he proclaimed a local drought emergency for Sonoma and Mendocino counties, both experiencing a second year of record-low rainfall totals.

Those counties’ primary water sources, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, supply water to about 600,000 North Bay residents. They are currently at about 62 and 44 percent capacity, respectively, according to the county water agency Sonoma Water.

The governor’s announcement didn’t accompany any water-use mandates – yet. But if one wants to know what those may look like if and when they come – and this weekend’s expected rainfall won’t be enough to change much – look no further than to the south, where Marin County just approved a slate of water-use restrictions in a preemptive move as reservoirs drop toward levels that would soon trigger automatic restrictions. The Marin Municipal Water District this week unanimously approved prohibiting such non-essential uses as watering grass on public medians, washing one’s car at home, power-washing homes and businesses, flooding gutters, sewer flushing and street cleaning.

And those are just the beginning, as the MMWD vowed to consider stiffer restrictions in early May.

Sonoma’s water-restriction future is likely to be similar. It’s been four years since then-Gov. Jerry Brown declared the state’s previous five-year drought officially over – a parched span that led to state-mandated 25-percent water restrictions across the board in 2015.

We’re not there yet. But with rainfall totals hovering around 40 percent of normal as we enter the dry months of summer, the situation looks bleaker than the cracked bed of Lake Mendocino.

Don’t get too attached to those green lawns, Sonoma. The spigots are going to tighten.

***

When the Derek Chauvin guilty verdicts were announced Tuesday, it seemed Sonoma breathed a collective sigh of relief – along with many other communities across the country – confirming that, as Sonoma Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez succinctly put it, “the jury saw what we all saw.”

Among those relieved was Sonoma resident Maurice Parker, a retired ambassador to Swaziland who wrote a deeply personal account in the Index-Tribune last summer in the wake of the George Floyd murder and subsequent Black Lives Matter demonstrations (“Sonoma Is Not Hallelujah,” July 2). In that article he detailed several examples of the underlying, at times blatant racism he has experienced as a Black man married to a white woman in the Valley of the Moon.

Parker said the prosecution did a “brilliant job” of laying out its case in the Chauvin trial, yet he was still bracing for a letdown.

“I can’t remember another case that was won,” Parker told the Index-Tribune. “We think back on things like Travyon Martin and so many other cases along the way that have all ended in disappointment.”

Parker, 71, described it as “a relief” that there will be some amount of justice for George Floyd, but added that there is a lot of work to be done.

He asked rhetorically:

“How many whites are killed every year because the police stop to help them with a flat tire? None. How many are killed for having a cell phone in their hands? None.”

This is just “the first step,” said Parker. “But it’s a positive one.”

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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