A report released yesterday by the California Department of Public Health that declared Healdsburg and Cloverdale could soon run out of water has caused a panic in northern Sonoma County.
Local city officials are saying the information was completely inaccurate and are trying to reassure worried residents and business owners that, while conservation measures are important during this drought, there won't be a shortage of drinking water.
"It's not true," said Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood. "I think what probably attracted the attention of the state is that Cloverdale and Healdsburg asked for mandatory water conservation. All of our wells are chugging at 100 percent and are refilling at a normal level. We believe we are fine. We are concerned about the future and we want to conserve water for us here in town, but also for the whole region."
The statement from the state Department of Public Health said that it had identified 17 rural communities with "vulnerable drinking water systems due to drought conditions."
The statement went on to say that "The 17 identified may face severe water shortages in the next 60 to 100 days."
Following the release, multiple newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News reported the information from the state.
Cloverdale City Manager Paul Cayler and Healdsburg City Manager Marjie Pettus both said their phones were ringing all day from concerned and worried citizens, business owners and news agencies.
"We have been getting calls statewide from everybody," Cayler said. "The message is, there is no reason to panic. There is no reason to be fearful. But people need to make good water choices."
Cayler said he isn't completely sure where the state got their information because he wasn't contacted by the Department of Health before the list was released. Pettus said Healdsburg wasn't contacted either.
An official from the California Department of Public Health did not immediately return a call for comment on this story.
"It's bad information and it's going to make people be fearful and panic," Cayler said.
Cloverdale has pre-1914 water rights to the Russian River and has several wells, including two additional wells that will be up and running in mid-summer. Those wells had been planned before the drought and emergency was declared and are still on schedule.
"We have our well fields. That's where we have our water rights," Cayler said.
In Healdsburg, not only does the city also have senior water rights to wells drawing from the Russian River, but the city has access to Dry Creek wells beginning each April.
City officials have been trying to gain access to the Dry Creek Wells earlier, given the drought conditions, but at the very minimum, water will be available from the additional wells by April.
"There is more than enough water to recharge the wells," Wood said. "The worst case scenario, in 60 days, we will have access those wells. I'm not sure that the people who put us on the list realized we had this other source of water."
Healdsburg's City Manager Marjie Pettus said the Stage 2 conservation efforts the city enacted last week will help ensure the water supply will maintain healthy levels, but that the city doesn't believe it is in a position where water will run dry, as was alluded to by the Department of Public Health.
"The caveat is barring any significant water event," she said. For example, if an entire area of the city caught on fire, the wells would be pumped dry to fight the fires. "Then it would become a matter of how long it would take our wells to recharge, which is directly correlated to how much water is flowing in the Russian River," Pettus said.
"Certainly, we'd like people to be mindful," she said.
Both Healdsburg and Cloverdale city officials said the residents and businesses shouldn't worry about completely running out of water, but that everyone should practice additional water conservation measures so that the wells continue to run at full capacity.