County leaders launch drought-awareness campaign
A little rain during the worst drought in the state’s history underlined an important idea that Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore brought up in his speech outside Santa Rosa’s Friedman’s Home Improvement July 9: “Our behavior with water usage today in this county, and in this state, are not in line with our current and future situations,” he said. “No one is exempt from the drought.”
Gore, who in his role as supervisor is also a board member of the Sonoma County Water Agency, was joined by officials from 10 different water districts in Sonoma and Marin counties, which comprise the Sonoma-Marin Water Saving Partnership. At the July 9 media event, the Partnership announced it’s joining forces with several other influential County entities – including Sonoma Media Investments, the North Bay Leadership Council, the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma County Alliance and the Sonoma County Winegrowers – to form the Water Sustainability Coalition. The Coalition’s goal is to consolidate their resources and join forces with media and business leaders to make the water conservation the number one priority in the drought-weary minds of county residents.
As an example of the kind of public outreach the Coalition is hoping for, Friedman’s Home Improvement stores are offering free “drought kits,” which include buckets, rain catchers and educational materials about water conservation.
Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Sonoma Index-Tribune, said the drought is too important for people to ignore. “It is highly unusual to have a media company join like this,” he said. “But we have a duty to educate the people. We need to lead the way and we need to do more.”
Falk hopes to keep water concerns front and center through drought-awareness ads in Sonoma Media’s publications which, in addition to the I-T, include the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the Petaluma Argus-Courier and the North Bay Business Journal.
After four years, Californians are starting to accept the drought as no longer exceptional, but the rule for daily life. Santa Rosa Mayor John Sawyer pointed out at the Thursday event that, while Gov. Brown criticizes California communities for poor water conservation, by contrast Santa Rosa and Sonoma County continue to be leaders in preservation. Sawyer reported his city cut water usage by 30 percent over 2013 figures, measuring nearly 750,000 gallons of water saved per year.
Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, said water conservation starts in small increments, but adds up significantly when taken as a whole. “People are going around saying ‘green is the new brown’ when they talk about their lawns,” she said. “We need to embrace that further. I like to think that we live in a golden state, so we should have golden lawns and be proud of it.”
Murray added that installing low-flow toilets, which reduce water volume from 1.6 to 1.2 gallons per flush – and are required by state law in all new homes and renovations – saves up to 16,000 gallons of water within a year.
Gore wants to take conservation ideas further by asking people to consider using greywater for their watering purposes. Greywater is discharge from washing machines, dishwashers and other household sources that doesn’t connect to the toilet’s sewage pipe. “I want people to consider using greywater three to four times for lawn and garden use before they return it to their soil profile,” Gore said.
Coalition leaders presented “five things you can do now” to conserve water in the drought: Let your lawn go golden and replant in October with drought resistant plants and drip irrigation; replace old toilets with high-efficiency toilets; look for leaks and fix any leaking pipes, irrigation, toilets or faucets; reduce shower time by two minutes; and use a bucket to capture shower “warm up water” and use that for other household needs.
This coalition has no legislative power, and was created as a think tank for members in the community’s leadership to band together and come up with plans to help people adjust to the drought.