Where’s the Water?

This week, gardener divine Wendy Krupnick and I penned a letter (to anyone who would listen) about the scarcity of water in our county. The Press Democrat picked it up, and hopefully a few others will as well. County Supervisors are responding as well.  Here is the Press Democrat link for the letter: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20131231/opinion/131239969 and here is the letter printed in full:

To: Sonoma County Supervisors and Water Agency

Re: Drought leadership needed

The driest year in California’s recorded history is about to come to a close, and there is no promise that the drought will end any time soon. Even if there was substantial rainfall in the next few months, will it be sufficient to replenish severely depleted groundwater reserves? What if that rain does not come? Too many human, animal, biological and economic lives are dependent on this scarce resource for us not to take immediate measures to preserve what we have.

The specter of extended drought is as scary as the “super storms” which have been happening in other parts of the world. Equally frightening is the deafening silence of our public officials, who have so far failed to acknowledge this crisis and call for mandatory conservation measures. Climate change is clearly happening here and now.

We know that:

  • In 2002 Sonoma County reported that approximately 40,000 wells existed within the county, serving 90,000 residents. Groundwater provides drinking water in part to 42 percent of the population, with nearly all of the county’s residents dependent on groundwater as either a primary or backup drinking water supply source.
  • Sonoma County issues about 500 well permits each year. California is one of only two states with no groundwater regulation. Increasing amounts of water are taken out of the ground and decreasing amounts are being replenished.
  • In the Santa Rosa Plain alone, there are about 12,000 wells operated by the five cities, the county water agency and private homes and ranches. Virtually all farms and ranches – the lifeblood of our county’s economy – depend on private wells for water.
  • Groundwater in many parts of the county has been in “overdraft” for many years and some wells are now drawing on “ancient” deep aquifers.  Other areas have many dry wells, and subsidence has occurred in some regions.

In spite of the information above, we are told that our county does not need to worry about this unprecedented lack of rain, because there is still water in Lake Sonoma. As we can see, Lake Sonoma water is completely irrelevant to a very significant part of our population. And what if Lake Sonoma does not refill this winter?

In the 1970s California experienced a drought that was not as severe as the current one, but there were mandatory conservation measures enacted in many communities. Lawn watering and washing sidewalks and cars with hoses were prohibited, and low flow water devices were distributed. We learned to let “yellow mellow” and took short showers. These measures made a big difference and we found that we could do just fine using much less water. There are additional water conservation measures that could be actively supported by the agencies now, including grey water systems.

Why have such measures not been called for now? Are we afraid to scare off developers? Of the political battles that will ensue if we recognize the drought for what it is? It’s insanity to continue with business as usual when it comes to water–one of life’s true essentials.

Some of the cities have good water conservation policies “on the books”, yet dozens of acres of lawns adjacent to commercial enterprises waste thousands of gallons of water every month. And in many unincorporated areas water use is still extravagant. As long as private water districts like the Country Club neighborhood are allowed unlimited access to “their” water at nominal cost to their residents, water will continue to flow down those streets into the storm drains daily.

We the undersigned residents of Sonoma County call on our Supervisors, the Sonoma County Water Agency and its municipal clients to enact mandatory water conservations measures immediately. In addition to appropriate prohibitions and fees, there should be incentives for businesses to convert their landscapes to low water use plantings. Independent water districts and home owners associations should be required to provide water conservation information to their residents and to change their fee structures.

And we ask every resident of our county to count every drop of water as the precious, scarce resource that it is, and to do their part to adapt to our changing world.

Sincerely yours,