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‘Worst drought’: Sonoma County residents in 1977 had tight water restrictions

Have memories of the drought? We want to hear them! Share your stories, any photos and water-saving tips with us at onlineideas@pressdemocrat.com.

If you had a green lawn in the summer of 1977, you could expect confrontation with angry neighbors or even with the law.

Back then, Sonoma County was in its second year of what former Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. called “the worst drought” in California history at the time, and its implications are strikingly similar to this year’s drought.

“The adverse impact of the drought has affected, or will affect, every segment of California society, particularly agriculture, recreation, industry, and water users,” Brown said during the Governor’s Drought Conference in Los Angeles in March 1977.

The 1976-77 drought was the driest year on record, according to the Sonoma County Water Agency. Santa Rosa received 9.47 inches of rain through April 15 of the 1976-77 water year, compared with 12.77 inches of rainfall this year. Santa Rosa typically receives an average 32.2 inches of rainfall a year.

Water restrictions were enforced around the county and state during the drought.

Households in Bodega Bay were limited to 50 gallons per day for each person, and water rates there doubled in July 1977, according to Press Democrat reports.

Petaluma City Council members weighed options about water usage at a February 1977 meeting for car wash operations, Coast Guard training, dairies, plant nurseries, swimming pools and whether residents with private wells should be allowed to use their water for lawns.

“Private Well” yard signs from the Sonoma County Water Agency were given to residents to avoid confrontation with neighbors over green lawns as a result of private wells.

By September 1977, after two years of drought, The Press Democrat reported Lake Mendocino’s elevation was down about 80 feet.

Lake Mendocino waters had receded so much that remains of Pomo village sites flooded and submerged since 1959 could be seen.

Additionally, fish flows to the Pacific Ocean were eliminated during the drought to conserve water for human use, according to a May 1978 drought report by the California Department of Water Resources.

“To meet deficiencies within its area, the (Sonoma County Water Agency) drilled deep, high-capacity wells, which by year’s end were satisfying a significant part of urban demand,” the report said. The groundwater was moved across Sonoma and north Marin County via aqueducts.

Have memories of the drought? We want to hear them! Share your stories, any photos and water-saving tips with us at onlineideas@pressdemocrat.com.

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