Close the books. The year that just ended will be remembered as the worst on record -#8212; for the state and for the North Coast -#8212; for rainfall.
In an average calendar year, the Santa Rosa basin (stretching roughly from Windsor to Rohnert Park) receives about 32.5 inches. From Jan. 1, 2013 to the end of year, it received 5.7 inches, according to the Sonoma County Water Agency.
The Ukiah basin, which normally receives about 33 inches of rain, received 7.8 inches.
Before now, the two worst drought years on record -#8212; dating back 119 years -#8212; were 1976 and 1932. But data on the upper reaches of the Russian River show that area had received significantly less rain then either of those dry years.
And there's no rain in sight. While a high-pressure system off the coast continues to push away moist air, creating idyllic holiday conditions for vacationing school children, it's setting up the region for real hardship in the months ahead.
At least 2013 ended on a high note for what needs to be done to confront the North Coast's dry conditions. On New Year's Eve, the state Water Resources Control Board issued an order approving the Sonoma County Water Agency's bid for urgent action to help preserve water in Lake Mendocino. The order will allow the Water Agency to cut flows, thereby saving water in Lake Mendocino, which is now critically low at 39 percent of capacity.
Meanwhile, Lake Sonoma is at 70 percent of capacity -#8212; not a dire situation but cause for considerable concern if dry conditions persist.
Next week, the Water Agency is expected to issue some aggressive conservation guidelines on water usage. But customers don't need to wait for state or local water officials to issue new directives in order to do something. Here are some easy-to-understand measures suggested by the Water Agency that can make a difference:
-#8226; Water your yards only when necessary and only in morning or evening. Let's face it. During these winter months, most yards don't need watering at all.
-#8226; Don't hose down driveways, sidewalks or decks to clean them. Break out the broom.
-#8226; When brushing teeth, shaving or washing hands, don't let the water run the entire time. And take shorter showers.
-#8226; Avoid running the dishwasher or the washing machine unless you have a full load.
-#8226; Install appliances, such as low-flow toilets, that reduce water usage.
-#8226; Here's the best tip yet: Replace your lawn with native plants and a drip irrigation system. And take part in in a water conservation rebate program. (For more information, go to www.savingwaterpartnership.org.)
The North Coast needs to start the year on the right note, by recognizing that there are some things -#8212; such as high-pressure systems -#8212; that are beyond our control, and other things -#8212; such as conservation measures -#8212; that aren't. Let's resolve not to wait for someone to tell us how to make a difference. Let's make one anyway.