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Sebastopol must cut water use by 20%

Residents of Sebastopol - so far spared some of the pressure placed on neighboring cities to conserve water - are now officially operating under a mandatory water shortage plan requiring a 20 percent reduction in water use.

Measures adopted by the City Council on Tuesday night mirror those in place elsewhere in Sonoma County and around the state, aimed at preserving California’s precious water supplies as a third year of drought persists.

But the situation for Sebastopol is odd in that it depends on groundwater wells to supply its citizens, and the city has no local shortage at this time, engineering director Sue Kelly said.

“We’re just doing this because the state says we have to,” she said. “We don’t have a water shortage or a water emergency, or even a water alert in the city of Sebastopol.”

She and others expressed some doubt about the city’s ability to reach the 20 percent reduction goal compared with a year ago, given data showing the city had, by last year, already reduced consumption by 25 percent from peak usage in 2004.

“Sebastopol citizens have done an incredible job conserving water and reducing use over the last decade,” Mayor Robert Jacob said.

Sebastopol is surrounded by cities dependent on diminishing water supplies in Lakes Sonoma and Mendocino, and facing grim prospects unless the coming winter brings substantial rain.

In contrast, monitoring of the wells that supply Sebastopol’s roughly 7,500 people has not revealed substantial level changes, beyond seasonal fluctuations, Kelly said.

Despite the healthy water supply, Kelly characterized conserving during the drought as being the right thing to do.

The city is applying for a state grant to finance upgrades in arsenic treatment in one of its wells and, thus, would have been required to adopt a water-shortage contingency plan in any case. Then, on July 15, the State Water Resources Control Board passed emergency rules requiring all urban water suppliers in California to enforce certain prohibitions on wasteful water use and invoke conservation measures.

Among the rules newly effective in Sebastopol are those prohibiting use of potable water to wash down sidewalks, walkways, driveways, parking lots or other hard surfaces, except where flammable or hazardous substances are present. Other prohibitions include washing of vehicles, except from a bucket, though hoses may be used for rinsing if they’re equipped with a shutoff valve; excessive outdoor irrigation that causes runoff or over-spray; and filling of swimming pools.

Residents also are urged to limit irrigation to evening and early morning hours.

The city’s regulations do not include imposing daily fines up to $500 for violation of water waste provisions, as is now allowed by state law.

“Our enforcement primarily is going to be education and reaching out to homeowners, and users,” Jacob said, “and only in the most extreme cases would we move to fines.”

Because the city has fewer than 3,000 individual water connections, it is not required to report monthly water use data to the state.

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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