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September 26, 2022

More Heat, Less Water as Shortage Continues

County sets virtual town hall for Sept. 1

With projections for several 100-plus degree days in Healdsburg this weekend, the dire condition of the North Bay water shortage continues to concern agencies as well as residents. The Russian River watershed is deep into a third consecutive year of below-average rainfall, and water supply levels at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma remain at historic lows. 

The heat wave—and there’s no other way to describe conditions expected to see thermometers crest the century mark for at least four straight days, Saturday through Tuesday, and possibly longer—is due to high pressure building over the Great Basin in Nevada and Utah that will “shift westward over California tomorrow and Thursday and result in temperatures rising up to well above normal,” according to meteorologist David Spector of the National Weather Service. 

And it’s not just the North Bay. The Los Angeles region is expected to swelter as temperatures approach 110 degrees, and historic highs can be expected throughout the state.

So it’s not surprising that the county’s water agency, Sonoma Water, and its partners in the Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership (SMSWP) continue to advocate water conservation, saying, “Water saved now is water we can use later.” 

Once again, Healdsburg continues to lead the way, showing strong water conservation numbers in their latest reports for August. The city is currently in Stage 2, with the goal of reducing usage by 20%. Some restrictions include the limited irrigation hours only three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), no washing of sidewalks or other hardscapes, use of recycled water for irrigation or construction, fixing leaks within 72 hours and other measures.

“All customers have an overall goal of reducing water usage by 20% (compared to 2017-2019 average),” says the city in their Water Management FAQ (bit.ly/CoHWaterFAQ)

Healdsburg’s water consumption was 34% less for the month of June compared to the 2017-2019 average, with an even stronger 41% savings in the residential sector. July saw similar success, according to City Manager Jeff Kay’s Aug. 26 civic update.

“As a community, our water consumption was 35% less for the month of July compared to the 2017-2019 average! This is thanks in large part to residents cutting back on outdoor irrigation,” he wrote.

However, this feel-good news must be put in the context of a surprising statistic that residents use about 50% more water per capita than other cities in the county. “This suggests that we have room for more conservation and some ground to make up when it comes to water efficiency within our region, yet we are moving in the right direction,” the city reports in their Water Management FAQ. 

“We do not know definitively the particular cause of historically higher water consumption; however, we think that it was likely due to outdoor irrigation,” said Terra Sampson of the city’s utility department.

Healdsburg presently gets about 80% of its water supply from the upper Russian River, making the city particularly vulnerable to supply shortages in Lake Mendocino, which feeds the river; Lake Sonoma water is added to the Russian River just south of town, via Dry Creek. Water levels are currently 63% of targeted storage at Lake Mendocino, 49.2% at Lake Sonoma.

Endeavoring to keep water top-of-mind for all residents, Sonoma County officials will present the fifth in the county’s series of monthly public forums on the drought, during a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, Sept. 1 at 4 pm. 

Hosted by Supervisor Chris Coursey, the town hall will feature a panel of experts reporting on the relationship between the drought, climate change and wildfire, including an updated weather forecast for Sonoma County; a report on an innovative project to store water in underground aquifers for use in future droughts; and a presentation on how to install a water catchment system or rain garden before winter.

To register in advance for the town hall on Zoom, and to pose questions to panelists, visit socoemergency.org/emergency/drought. The briefing will be streamed live on the County of Sonoma Facebook page (facebook.com/CountyofSonoma).

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