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Petaluma considers limits for outside water users

About 50,000 gallons of Petaluma drinking water are being trucked out of town each day for some other purpose -#8212; agriculture, construction, filling swimming pools. And with the drought quickly becoming a top priority, city officials are looking into that long-standing practice.

The water being transported outside city limits is just a figurative drop in the bucket, Public Works Director Dan St. John said, but every drop counts during such a significant dry spell.

St. John revealed the little-known practice during a City Council workshop on water issues last week. It raises equity issues for Petaluma customers and potential legal complications since city rate-payers are essentially subsidizing users outside the system.

The discussion comes amid a statewide "drought emergency" declared Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown. State reservoirs are critically low and cities across the state have already begun water-rationing measures.

St. John said there are perhaps a dozen "load accounts" with the city, which pay a rate similar to residential users, plus a monthly charge for the hydrant use. It has been common practice to allow these users to load up trucks with city water for use at construction sites, primarily within town.

After a little investigation, it became apparent that some of the users were hauling water outside city limits for a variety of uses, some unknown, others for ag irrigation or livestock.

"They pay for it, but it was never intended, on the city's part, that it would be used for something like this," Councilman Mike Healy said.

It's not clear exactly who uses the water, because at least one user resells it, St. John said.

"We heard anecdotes that one was trucking it as far as Tomales, but that's unsubstantiated," he said. "We're thinking it's mostly around the west and south county."

The use amounts to less than 1 percent of Petaluma's water demand, about $10,000 a year.


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