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Santa Rosa comes out ahead of revised water cuts

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Santa Rosa residents have already satisfied the state’s water conservation requirement and simply “need to keep it up” as the weather warms and the urge to water lawns resumes, a city official said Monday.

“We’re asking our customers to keep implementing the water-saving habits they have picked up,” said Jennifer Burke, deputy director of water and engineering services.

Santa Rosa was the only one of 11 North Bay cities and water agencies that came out ahead of the revised conservation standards issued Saturday by the State Water Board, which is implementing Gov. Jerry Brown’s demand for a statewide 25 percent cut in water consumption this year.

State regulators have focused on watering lawns and landscaping, which consumes about 1 million acre feet of water a year, enough to fill Lake Sonoma, the North Bay’s largest reservoir, four times.

Two weeks ago, the water board announced draft conservation targets for more than 400 urban water suppliers, giving Santa Rosa a 20 percent goal, just 2 percent higher than the 18 percent water savings achieved since 2013. The goals were revised after water providers complained that draft ones failed to give enough weight to previous conservation efforts. New tiers were established based on usage data from the months of July, August and September instead of just September. The revised standards cut the city’s target to 16 percent, 2 percent lower than the current conservation rate.

Burke said it was “good to see the state has taken into account the conservation efforts of previous years.”

Rohnert Park, Windsor and the Sweetwater Springs Water District also qualified for the 16 percent target, replacing the 20 percent standard but still larger than their water savings to date: 11 percent for Rohnert Park and 15 percent for Windsor and Sweetwater Springs, which serves the lower Russian River area.

Sonoma and Healdsburg took hits from the revised standards, bumped up to 28 percent from 25 percent.

Sonoma faces the largest challenge, a 13 percent gap between the revised target and the 15 percent conservation it has achieved since 2013. Healdsburg, credited with 17 percent water savings to date, faces an 11 percent gap.

Dan Takasugi, Sonoma’s public works director, said the city’s outdoor water use is driven by a warm, inland climate and prevalence of single-family housing, which typically consumes more water than apartments.

The town has limited lawn irrigation to two days a week, Monday and Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., while most other water suppliers limit it to three days per week or have no such limit, Takasugi said. Santa Rosa limits lawn sprinkling to nights from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Commercial landscape maintenance firms, which are “motivated to keep lawns beautiful,” Takasugi said, were sent letters advising them of the restriction.

Sonoma also has a four-tiered residential water rate structure starting at $3.59 per 1,000 gallons up to $10.21 per 1,000 gallons, intended to reward households that use water sparingly and boost the cost of “using too much water,” he said.

Petaluma was assigned a 24 percent conservation target on Saturday, down sightly from the 25 percent goal, but Dan St. John, director of public works and utilities, said Monday he had submitted new water consumption data that would qualify the city for a 16 percent target.

The lower target is easier to hit this year, he said, but it means “we have to do everything we did last year, which took a whole lot of work, plus doing more this year to achieve the new 16 percent requirement.”

There were late rains last year, from February through April, “which we haven’t gotten this year — yet,” St. John said.

Strategies for boosting Petaluma’s water conservation will be presented at a City Council workshop on Monday, he said.

Sebastopol, Cloverdale and Cotati are not included in the data because their number of water customers does not require them to report savings figures to the state.

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