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Argus-Courier Editorial

Drought requires immediate action

Published: Monday, January 13, 2014 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 1:02 p.m.

If we don’t get rain soon, and a lot of it, city and county officials could soon implementing unprecedented water restrictions to ensure enough water is on hand for critical uses later this year.

Petaluma gets the bulk of its water from the Sonoma County Water Agency, a public entity overseen by the Board of Supervisors, which also supplies cities from Windsor to Novato using wells located deep beneath the Russian River near Forestville.

But given the record lack of rainfall over the last 12 months, the water system’s main reservoir, Lake Mendocino, is currently at just 38 percent capacity, an extremely low level for January. Lake Sonoma, the back-up water supply, is down to around 70 percent of capacity.

Petaluma is able to pump limited water from its underground aquifers, but it’s just not enough to serve the city’s needs. That means residents and businesses will need to take action now to reduce their water usage.

Following a workshop on the drought on Monday, Jan. 13, the City of Petaluma is expected to begin implementing the first stage of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan. This stage, which mostly involves a public education campaign, focuses on promoting voluntary efforts to reduce water consumption, such as cutting back on car washing, pavement wash downs and landscape irrigation. Residents will also be encouraged to take advantage of rebates to install high-efficiency toilets, washing machines and shower heads.

Residents and commercial property owners can take advantage of a free “Water Wise House Call” program and have a water conservation professional come out to review water use, check your irrigation system and offer suggestions for saving water, one of which is replacing your lawn with a water-saving alternative. The city offers free mulch, compost, cardboard, an irrigation conversion kit, even free native plants from a local native plant nursery to residents who wish to sheet mulch their existing lawns, so there’s little reason not to take advantage of this opportunity to save both water and money.

If voluntary efforts do not result in enough water being conserved, a variety of mandatory programs will kick in that include an outright prohibition on things like irrigating landscape or filling up swimming pools. Heavy water users could be fined for not taking adequate steps to reduce their water usage.

Over the last five years, Petalumans have done a remarkable job reducing their water use. Thanks to the city’s Ellis Creek Wastewater Recycling Facility, the city has been able to use treated wastewater to irrigate several public spaces including Prince Park, Adobe and Rooster Run golf courses and the airport. Later this year, recycled water will be used to irrigate ball fields at Casa Grande High School and Walnut Park.

Yes, Petaluma does better than most cities in terms of water conservation, but we can always do better.

Call the city’s water conservation hotline at 778-4507 for a free house call on ways you can save water, or visit the city website’s water conservation page for ideas on what you can do to save water and save money in the process.

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