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Postcards from the Drought: Dormant Sonoma Water well now back online

With water supplies diminishing across California, the Sonoma County Water Agency pulled off a major coup by bringing a fresh water source into play that will make another 1.6 million gallons a day or so available to its contractors.

While not exactly new, the rehabilitated groundwater well off Todd Road in southwest Santa Rosa has been out of commission since the last drought and barely used for several years before that.

But an infusion of cash — about $800,000 split by Sonoma Water and the county — plus months of labor and new equipment means the 808-foot deep well now meets state standards.

Crews brought the new well online late Wednesday to work out any last kinks and expect to run it continuously, Operations Coordinator Garett Walker said.

The well and associated equipment are in a pair of small, unassuming utility buildings on a rocked drive surrounded by wire fencing and oak-studded fields. The water agency also hopes to reactivate two other wells nearby.

The agency is also seeking state funds for a secondary project allowing injection of water into one of the wells during wet years to help recharge the groundwater basin.

“This is making us more resilient,” General Manager Grant Davis told reporters Thursday. “This is the way of the future.”

Sonoma Water produces about 40 million gallons of water per day for wholesale distribution from its wells alongside the Russian River near Wohler Bridge in Forestville, so the newly rehabilitated well off Todd Road will account for about 4% more in the system.

The city of Petaluma will get first dibs on a portion of the new supply in an effort to support desperate south Sonoma County ranchers, dairy farmers and residents whose own water sources ran dry as a year of extreme drought turned to two.

Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tawny Tesconi said dairy cows need about 40 gallons of water a day. Some dairy ranchers have been hauling 60,000-70,000 gallons to their properties every day for months, leaning heavily on the city of Petaluma for supplies.

City records indicate outside water sales have more than doubled since April to around 42 million gallons in August and 37.2 million gallons in September, but increasing restrictions have limited how many farmers can acquire water from the city. Pushing more water into the system will help Petaluma continue to support those farmers, Tesconi and Davis said.

Continued operation of the well also should help Sonoma Water customers meet the agency’s 20% cutback in Russian River diversions, Davis said.

The extra boost “gives us a sense of hope,” Davis said “It’s going to help in so many ways.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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