Water supplies are dipping and the outlook for the coming rainy season is iffy at best. That’s the main takeaways from Thursday’s online drought town hall held by Sonoma County.
In a move that activists hope could shift how water regulators statewide manage dwindling groundwater basins, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week banned the drilling of all new wells for six months countywide while they draft a set of longer-lasting rules on using groundwater.
As the current drought stretches into its third year, demands to desalinate ocean water rise, especially in such places as Sonoma County and its more than 55 miles of coastline. But putting a desalination plant on the Sonoma County coast seems unlikely, especially after the California Coastal Commission in May rejected construction of a desalination plant in Huntington Beach that had been studied for more than 15 years, said entrepreneur John Webley.
Hailed as a complex and historic step, Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously endorsed plans to guide use and governance of groundwater relied on by rural residents, farmers and cities.
The plans, required by a 2014 state law crafted amid California’s past drought, will eventually include well water use fees in three basins underlying the Santa Rosa Plain and Sonoma and Petaluma valleys.
The Santa Rosa City Council approved mandatory water-use restrictions for its residents and businesses starting Thursday, becoming the sixth city in Sonoma County to cut back on water.
The motion to approve the water-shortage contingency plan — which mandates residents and businesses reduce water use by 20% — passed with five ayes from Council Members Eddie Alvarez, John Sawyer, Tom Schwedhelm, Mayor Chris Rogers and Vice Mayor Natalie Rogers. Council Members Victoria Fleming and Jack Tibbetts were absent.
Several communities and hundreds of vineyards in California’s Wine Country are being cut off from their water supply because there’s not enough water to go around. State regulators on Wednesday ordered nearly 1,000 water rights holders in the Russian River watershed to stop drawing supplies from the basin’s many rivers and creeks, the latest turn in California’s deepening drought. The order means many small water agencies and scores of growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties will have to fall back on stored water or other sources, if they have it, or go without water entirely. State officials say the restrictions will not apply when human health and safety are at risk, though the exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis and are yet to be issued.
Sonoma County supervisors are expected to offer their formal support Tuesday for a plan to pump 20% less water than normal from the Russian River for the remainder of the year, preserving dwindling supplies in local reservoirs but making less water available to more than 600,000 consumers in Sonoma and northern Marin counties.
Stunning drone photographs of Lake Oroville help illustrate the drought emergency declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom in two Northern California counties. Water levels at Lake Oroville have dropped to 42% of its 3,537,577 acre foot capacity.
Conditions are particularly acute in Mendocino and Sonoma counties because the local water supply depends on rainfall in the Russian River watershed.
Sonoma County is facing a historic drought after two dry winters and, on Tuesday, county supervisors are expected to proclaim a drought emergency.
“We’re looking, today, at the lowest level our reservoirs have ever been since they were built,” said Brad Sherwood, the spokesman at Sonoma Water.
Standing in the dry, cracked bottom of Lake Mendocino, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency Wednesday in two Northern California counties where grape growers and wineries are major users, an order that came in response to arid conditions affecting much of the state and the U.S. West.
The declaration is targeted to Mendocino and Sonoma counties, where drought conditions are especially bad, rather than statewide, as some officials and farmers in the agricultural-rich Central Valley had hoped. But the Democratic governor said a broader drought declaration could come as conditions change.