Mandatory water savings may soon be over for most Sonoma County residents
For most Sonoma County residents, the days of strict water savings mandates could be over by summer, a result of brimful reservoirs and a dramatic shift this week in state water conservation rules.
Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers should be excused from state-ordered water-saving standards as soon as next month under California’s updated conservation campaign, tailored for the first time to match regulations to the reality of regional water supplies, officials said Friday.
With the region’s two major reservoirs nearly full from above-average rainfall, six local agencies that serve more than 340,000 customers meet the new requirement for demonstrating a sufficient water supply over a three-year period under drought conditions.
“It’s good news,” said Brad Sherwood of the Sonoma County Water Agency, the water wholesaler that serves the local agencies. “Our Russian River water supply system is not in a drought condition.”
The water agency released calculations this week showing that the local water suppliers can balance water demand and supply over three more dry years, thereby gaining exemptions from the conservation standards imposed 10 months ago by the State Water Resources Control Board. In addition to Santa Rosa, the affected municipal systems include Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Sonoma and Valley of the Moon Water District.
Local water suppliers that cannot meet demand will be assigned water-savings targets equal to their shortfall, according to the revised conservation program adopted by the water board on Wednesday.
“It does appear we have an adequate water supply for the next three years,” said Jennifer Burke, deputy director of water resources for Santa Rosa.
If the City Council and Board of Public Utilities concur, the city will seek the state board’s formal approval of an exemption from the conservation mandates imposed in June last year. The most recent standards required a 16 percent reduction in water use by Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Windsor. Valley of the Moon had a 20 percent target, and Sonoma a 28 percent standard.
The orders carried the threat of fines up to $500 a day for property owners who don’t comply, and civil liabilities up to $10,000 a day for suppliers that don’t meet conservation targets.
The state conservation plan covers 411 urban water suppliers but does not set standards for small water agencies, including Cotati, Cloverdale and Sebastopol.
The revised standards are scheduled to take effect in June and remain until the end of January.
If severe drought conditions return, the state could restore the original blanket mandate of 25 percent, the water board said.
“Drought conditions are far from over but have improved enough that we can step back from our unprecedented top-down target setting,” board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a press release.
Sonoma County water managers have maintained for months that the state mandates overlooked differences in water conditions from one end of California to the other.
The Russian River watershed, which supplies water to farms and cities from Ukiah to Marin County, is separate from the vast state water system that depends on the Sierra snowpack and a network of massive reservoirs and canals to move water from Northern California to the arid southland.
“We’re facing a different water situation from Los Angeles right now,” Sherwood said. “We should be evaluated differently from Los Angeles.”