We are all rejoicing at the rain we're getting right now. Great as it is, make no mistake. We are still in the firm grip of our worst drought in local history.
In California, water is money, and droughts take money from our economy. For grape growers and other local farmers, rain fundamentally affects their livelihood and their ability to keep Sonoma County's beautiful landscape in agriculture. River outfitters, landscapers, ranchers and many others will be hurting or put out of business in the drought. Homeowners end up paying more for less. Economic impacts will last much longer than the drought.
Wildlife, especially fish, will face very dire conditions. The drought has already cost us many of the juvenile salmon from 2012 and 2013, and this year looks worse. Other wildlife will have to travel farther for water, have less cover and food sources, and most wildlife and fish populations will decline.
What we really need is more rain, but we can't make that happen despite our prayers and rain dances. The only way we "make more water" is by using less and freeing up water for another day.
People scoffing at conserving water should ask this question: What if we don't get rain next year as well? A recent study showed that our state has had droughts lasting more than 100 years.
In response to the drought, we are seeing most of our community respond with thoughtful action. Cities from Healdsburg to Ukiah have instituted mandatory water conservation. People are letting the yellow stuff mellow, carrying buckets from showers to yards to water plants, taking Navy showers, checking for leaky plumbing and letting their water-guzzling lawns go.
Grape growers are working to make smart decisions in this drought and accepting that there will be crop loss, as shown by the dramatic increase in crop insurance. They are focusing on vine health versus yield in 2014 by adjusting pruning and minimizing cover crop and future canopy management to reduce the crop size and water use. Growers have bought and rented every wind machine available for use during frost season and have invested in state-of-the-art weather systems to use water most efficiently. Sonoma County Winegrowers has hosted two workshops with other organizations on drought this month to help grape growers.
While we grapple for solutions and emergency measures, the critical question today is, how can we use this crisis to prepare for the next drought?
We know we don't have enough water storage in Lake Mendocino for current demands in the upper river. Updating how Lake Mendocino is operated to optimize water storage over flood control as suggested in Rep. Jared Huffman's bill and removing all the accumulated sediment are good starting places.
We can work together to expand water recycling while assuring we protect groundwater quality. We can find ways to capture more stormwater to be used later or slowly released to recharge groundwater or streams. Investing more in water efficiency will make a difference.