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PD Editorial: Getting ready for another dry year

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

It’s been a dry year, bone dry. And the water levels at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino — which supply drinking water for more than 600,000 residents across three counties — reflect the impact of extremely low rainfall. It’s not too soon to start conserving.

Lake Sonoma is at 63% of its storage capacity for this time of year, and Lake Mendocino is even lower at about 45%. The problem isn’t just local, either. The latest statewide survey found that the winter snowpack from which California gets much of its water was about half of the average for April 1.

That’s dire news, not least because it portends another rough fire season. Last year, the numbers were similar, and California experienced record wildfires that destroyed more than 10,000 buildings and killed 33 people.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he will spend $80 million to hire 1,400 additional firefighters in preparation for fire season, but the responsibility to prepare falls on all Californians. Sonoma Water officials are urging people to voluntarily reduce water usage now to help conserve as much as possible heading into the summer months.

Agriculture, which underpins much of the regional economy, also is at risk if water levels run low.

“We are faced with the second year of very dry conditions, and the entire Russian River watershed will need to come together, yet again, like we’ve done in the past, to reduce diversions out of the Russian River system and to practice good water conservation and efficiency measures to get through this particular year and into next year,” said Grant Davis, general manager of Sonoma Water.

After years of drought, we all know the drill. Take shorter showers. Use a bucket to wash your car, not a hose. Accept that your lawn won’t be green this year. Fix leaky faucets, pipes or toilets wasting water. Don’t leave the tap running while you’re brushing your teeth or washing your hands. Wash only full loads of laundry, or make sure you’ve selected the appropriate water level on the washing machine. If you have a pool, cover it to avoid evaporation. And so on.

Those who want to take conservation up a notch can take aggressive steps like making sure that landscaping is water-smart and appropriate for California’s environment and upgrading shower heads, toilets, washing machines and other appliances to more water-efficient models.

Water conservation won’t end the drought, of course. But if California does face another intense wildfire season, as seems likely, scarce water supplies can complicate firefighting efforts. Fires will grow larger, and firefighters will be at greater danger.

Long term, California must find ways to improve infrastructure for water retention and use. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, wants to use $2 billion of the windfall from the new federal COVID-19 spending bill to invest in strategic water projects. Storage facilities, groundwater banks, water recycling and consumer rebates for water-saving investments in landscaping are among her ideas.

California can’t control the weather, but as climate change leads to more frequent droughts — and more frequent and intense wildfires — the state and its residents must do everything possible to adapt and adjust.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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