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Sonoma County Water Agency launches conservation effort

  • Yorty Creek above Cloverdale is showing the signs of the dry year on Lake Sonoma, trees that normally are underwater are high and dry, Friday Nov. 9, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Sonoma and Marin county water agencies have begun urging customers to conserve water in the face of the worst drought the region has seen in at least a century.

The Sonoma County Water Agency and the nine municipal and regional water systems that use its water launched their first-ever wintertime conservation campaign on Wednesday with the theme "The Drought is On; Turn the Water Off."

Water managers say that Lake Sonoma, the centerpiece of the region's water supply, has about a year's worth of water left before the Water Agency would be forced to ration the supply to client cities and districts and their 600,000 customers. Coming out of a record dry year in 2013, they are hoping to extend that Lake Sonoma supply as long as possible before it reaches a critical level.

Lake Mendocino

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"We're very concerned; we want to take a proactive approach .<TH>.<TH>. The more we can do now, the less dire an impact it will have on us if this continues," said David Guhin, utilities director for the city of Santa Rosa, the largest water system reliant on Lake Sonoma.

The campaign will feature ads online in local broadcast and print outlets urging residents to conserve water, cutting down landscape irrigation, car washing, and other outdoor activities and publicizing existing programs to replace indoor appliances and fixtures with more efficient models.

This builds on an earlier campaign, over the summer, urging residents to take the "20 gallon challenge," reducing their usage by that much every day. This new call, however, is much more urgent given the dire lack of precipitation in the rainy season so far.

Santa Rosa ended 2013 with just 8.71 inches of rain, according to Press Democrat records. The normal rainfall is 32.22 inches. According to Water Agency data, last year was the driest in 119 years of record keeping, well below the severe drought years of 1976 and 1932.

Water levels have fallen so low in Lake Mendocino near Ukiah that the Water Agency has received state permission to slash flows into the upper Russian River to preserve what little is left for next summer. That is forcing cities north of Dry Creek, which are upstream of Lake Sonoma and thus cannot draw water from Lake Sonoma, to make plans for mandatory water conservation; the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors cleared the way for those measures Tuesday by declaring a "drought emergency."

In Napa County, reservoirs also are dwindling and the cities are eyeing their allocations from the State Water Project nervously. State water managers have warned that they will be able deliver as little as 5 percent of the normal allocation from the huge network of reservoirs that supplies much of Northern and Central California, though not Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Forecasters say there is a glimmer of hope for later this year, with some early signs that warming water in the Pacific may generate the condition known as "El Ni?" that normally means wetter weather on the West Coast.


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