Ask the PAC: How can Petaluma add housing amid water shortage?

Ways to save

Petaluma offers a host of water conservation incentive programs, including free Water-Wise home visits, to help customers save water. To learn more, go to

Ask the PAC

This weekly feature aims to get to the bottom of Petalumans’ burning questions and provide insight into vexing daily curiosities.

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While Petaluma residents brace for mandatory water use restrictions amid the worst drought conditions in a half century, construction crews continue to bolster the city’s housing stock.

The seeming dichotomy - adding thirsty units of housing to an already parched city - has caught the attention of numerous Argus-Courier readers, yielding our most popular Ask the PAC question to date:

Question: Why are we building housing during a water shortage?

Answer: The short answer is that population growth is already baked into the city’s water management plans.

By 2040, for example, Petaluma officials expect to be providing water to 73,350 people, compared to just over 60,000 today.

Petaluma famously curtailed population growth when city leaders capped construction in the 1970s, a decision that prompted a legal fight that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Petaluma won).

Today, city officials face competing priorities, including affordable housing targets that the city continues to lag behind, making strict construction caps more challenging.

To ensure sufficient water stores for the increased demand from new construction, city staff constantly monitor supplies against actual use, and apply those findings in evaluations for each new development, said Petaluma Communications Manager Jessica Medina.

"All new development is subject to the latest building code standards, which require water efficiency for indoor and outdoor water uses,“ Medina said via email. ”The city also imposes a Landscape Water Use Efficiency Ordinance, which minimizes water use for irrigation.“

The city buys water, which is sourced from the Russian River Water System and occasionally supplemented by groundwater, from the Sonoma County Water Agency. As part of the agreement, the city agrees to a framework for how supply reductions will be handled in the event of a water shortage.

Residents will soon have a chance to give their input on how the city manages its water supplies, as Petaluma is working to update its 2020 Urban Water Management Plan, which will include water demand projections through 2045.

The plan will go live on the city’s website in the coming weeks, and city officials encourage residents to get involved, starting with a public workshop May 17 before the Petaluma City Council moves to adopt the updated plan in June.

“As you might imagine, we take our water supply very seriously and a lot of thought and planning goes into decisions around water use,” Medina said. “We are so grateful to our community for taking it just as seriously and helping us conserve water – especially during dry periods like this one.”

Ways to save

Petaluma offers a host of water conservation incentive programs, including free Water-Wise home visits, to help customers save water. To learn more, go to

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