russian river

Conserve water — The city of Healdsburg is asking residents to voluntarily conserve water as the county has seen around 40% of normal rainfall.

Water conservation tips include reducing irrigation, getting drought resistant plants

With much of Northern California swathed in a severe drought, the city of Healdsburg is asking residents to voluntarily conserve water by reducing irrigation and switching to drought resistant plants, fixing leaky faucets and running clothes and dishwashers at full capacity.

As of Jan. 19, precipitation was at 40% of normal rainfall according to Felicia Smith, a utility conservation analyst with the city of Healdsburg.

“We’ve gotten some small rain events and so while we wait for Sonoma Water to release the most updated information, I’m expecting typically rainfall to still be below 50%,” Smith said during a city council presentation on Feb. 16.

According to the United States Drought Monitor — a team of scientists from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that releases an updated drought map every Thursday — Sonoma County is currently experiencing a moderate to severe drought while neighboring Napa County is in an extreme drought.

“Our water supply comes from the Russian River watershed,” Smith said.

Specifically, the city sources its drinking water from three well fields, two located along the Russian River and one located on Dry Creek.

The Russian River’s flow, especially during dry winters, is supplemented by Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino.

Because of this Smith said, “We’re typically monitoring the storage levels at Lake Mendocino.”

As of Feb. 16, Lake Mendocino is at 45.1% of its targeted water supply curve.

In terms of city water demand and use, Healdsburg produced 642 million gallons of drinking water in 2020.

“I know this is an outrageously large number. I think what’s more important here is that 70% is attributed to our residential use,” Smith said.

During the current winter months, Healdsburg used an average of 72 gallons per person per day and during the summer months residents used an average of 133 gallons per person per day.

Smith said landscaping is a large draw on our drinking-water supply.

“We can’t change our supply and that means that in order to preserve that we really need to start to reduce our demand and so we’re really calling on voluntary water conservation efforts to be increased substantially,” Smith said. 

Smith said they’re calling it voluntary because if residents can reduce their usage now and preserve that water supply then it could help prevent having to do mandatory water conservation measures in the future.

“Mandatory measures would be promoted by the state declaring an emergency or water rights being curtailed at Lake Mendocino,” she said.

Smith suggested a few simple ways folks can reduce water usage:

-       Fix leaks (such as leaky faucets or running toilets. Smith said if you’re not sure if you have a leak, she’ll take a look at your meter to determine whether or not you have a leak).

-       Turn off, or drastically reduce irrigation (Smith suggested switching to drought tolerant plants).

-       Don’t wash down sidewalks and patios, use a broom instead.

-       Run dishwashers and clothes washers at full capacity and or replace top load washing machines with front loaders (The city has a rebate program for switching to a front loader).

The city, along with Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership, will be running a social media campaign on tips for how to reduce water waste. Healdsburg residents will also be getting a mailer with relevant water conservation information in their next utility bill. 

“This is probably the first of many conversations (regarding water conservation). Water supply is pretty low, and we need to start amping up conservation efforts now,” Smith said.

During the council presentation Councilmember Skylaer Palacios asked what it would look like if the state were to mandate specific usages of water.

“The big one is we will start assigning irrigation days. Right you can irrigate essentially whenever you want and so we’d be on more of a schedule that dictates that certain parcels or properties can only water on certain days,” Smith said.

“I think it’s great you’re giving us this heads up so we can really start thinking about it,” Mayor Evelyn Mitchell said.  

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