Santa Rosa ends emergency drought declaration following winter storms
Santa Rosa has ended its emergency drought declaration as winter rains bolstered local reservoir levels and revived streams, replenishing water stores depleted by California’s more than three-year drought.
The move means city-ordered water conservation measures in place since 2021, such as limiting when residents can water their lawn, will be rolled back.
While the end of the local emergency marks an improved drought outlook for the near future, Santa Rosa Water officials warned residents should still be mindful of how they use water to protect the city’s long-term supply.
“It was getting very concerning as you can imagine coming into the winter,” Peter Martin, deputy director of water resources, told the City Council during a presentation Tuesday. “We lucked out.”
The council unanimously approved rescinding the city’s drought emergency first declared in June 2021 and mandatory cutbacks outlined under the city’s water contingency plan.
Residents will still be required to adhere to statewide water conservation measures, which are in effect until December, unless the state water board opts to end or extend its order.
Santa Rosa has received more than 36 inches of rain since the start of the rain year on Oct. 1, including nearly 7 inches in the past seven days, according to data from the city and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The historical average for Santa Rosa in records stretching back to 1902 is 29.95 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Across the region, above normal rainfall from a series of pounding atmospheric rivers since December has refilled local reservoirs that were diminished by three years of drought.
Lake Sonoma, which reached historic lows in early December, was at 115% of its seasonal capacity as of Tuesday, with planned high-flow releases underway Wednesday for the first time in nearly four years.
Lake Mendocino, where those flood-control releases began in January, was at more than 130% of its seasonal capacity.
The two reservoirs help deliver stored flows to pumps along the lower Russian River in Forestville that supply drinking water to more than 600,000 residents from Windsor to San Rafael in Marin County.
The rebound in reservoir levels means there is now enough water in the system to meet estimated drinking water demands for those customers for about four years, officials said.
“At this time, we no longer need our customers to implement austere measures to reduce water use,” Burke said.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to revisit its drought emergency proclamation in April.
The Santa Rosa council’s June 2021 resolution proclaimed a water shortage emergency and directed water officials to implement Stage 3 of the city’s eight-step water shortage contingency plan with a target of reducing communitywide water use by 20% compared to 2020.
The decision came after an unseasonably dry winter and just two months after Gov. Gavin Newson that April stood in the dry lakebed of Lake Mendocino and declared a drought emergency in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
Water saving measures included prohibitions banning landscape irrigation outside the hours of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., washing hard surfaces, such as sidewalks and driveways, and pressure washing in most cases, plus requiring shut-off nozzles for all hoses.
Restaurants were required to serve water only if requested and hotels were required to display notifications to customers that linens and towels would be washed during their stay only on request.
The emergency declaration also authorized the Water Department to use the Water Enterprise Fund Catastrophic Reserves, though Burke said the department never tapped into the funds.
The cutbacks helped reduce water use by 18% between July 2021 and February 2023, leading to a savings of 1.8 billion gallons of water, compared to 2020, Burke said.
Many of those measures will no longer be required with the water shortage emergency ending.
However, Burke said the city must still be cautious.
Water officials remain vigilant for ways to continue saving water and bolster the city’s water supply for future droughts.
The city continues to implement water use efficiency programs, offering incentives to residents to switch out their grass for low-water landscapes and helping residents replace old water fixtures with devices that help reduce waste, Burke said.
City staff will continue to host workshops and provide online tools to help educate residents on using water wisely.
The city is also in the process of completing an alternative water supply study that looks at how the city can capture and store more water and make its water system more resilient. The study is expected to be completed by year’s end and recommendations will be brought back to the council, Burke said.
Burke said these efforts will ensure long-term water savings, which will come in handy in drier years.
Mayor Natalie Rogers praised water officials and residents for their efforts to significantly reduce water use in the last few years.
You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.
Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park city reporter
Decisions made by local elected officials have some of the biggest day-to-day impacts on residents, from funding investments in roads and water infrastructure to setting policies to address housing needs and homelessness. As a city reporter, I want to track those decisions and how they affect the community while also highlighting areas that are being neglected or can be improved.
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