If it's true that, as Thomas Fuller said, "we never know the worth of water till the well is dry," then the North Coast is closing in on a major value-adjustment.
Even with the three-day downpour earlier this month and some rain on the horizon this week, Sonoma County is looking at the smallest rainfall total in recorded history. Santa Rosa, which averages nearly 24 inches by this time of year, is hovers just above 9 inches. One has to go back to the drought of 1976-77 to find conditions anywhere near as dire as these.
The impacts are already significant. Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar is projecting major crop losses on pastures and fields producing hay, oats and other grains in the region.
He estimated that, as of the end of January, economic losses had already reached $6.2 million. As a result, Linegar already is launching a water hauling/trucking program "to aid ranchers and farmers who are in dire need of water for livestock and feed."
Thus it should come as no surprise that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today is expected to declare a drought emergency, a move that would open up opportunities for the county to pursue state and federal assistance.
At this point, this is a declaration of the obvious — something that should come across more as government process than a call for action. Sonoma County residents should have gotten the message by now.
Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statewide emergency proclamation on Jan. 17 calling on every Californian to voluntarily cut their water use by 20 percent.
A week later, the U. S. Department of Agriculture designated many California counties — including Sonoma County — as disaster areas due to the drought conditions. That designation also opened up access to a variety of emergency financial assistance programs for local ranchers and farmers.
But to some the drought remains more inconvenience than anything. This is especially true depending on where one resides along the North Coast.
Those along the upper reaches of the Russian River are more likely to understand the urgency of the situation. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors declared an emergency as far back as Jan. 8. Even now, Lake Mendocino, the area's primary source of water, is at 41 percent of capacity and declining. The city of Willits relies on two small reservoirs that are nearly dry, leaving the community with less than 100 days of water in reserve. Likewise, Cloverdale and Healdsburg also have imposed mandatory water conservation measures.
But for those in the lower Russian River area, water supplies may come across as more concern than crisis. Given that Lake Sonoma remains at about 68 percent capacity, there are no calls for emergency measures. Instead, cities in the lower reaches of the Russian River are merely being asked to cut their use 20 percent through voluntary conservation.
We have our doubts about how successful a voluntary campaign will be in the long run. We have no doubt, however, that given the rainfall patterns in recent months and years, locals need to brace for the worst — regardless of where they live.