Russian River

The Russian River is pictured in Healdsburg following a storm in October 2021.

The city of Healdsburg is scaling back its water conservation measures from Stage 3 of the city’s water shortage contingency plan to Stage 2, which targets a 20% reduction in water usage citywide by prohibiting certain uses of water. It had previously been targeting a 40% reduction in water use.

The Healdsburg City Council unanimously approved of the move on Nov. 15 during its regular council meeting.

While the change means residents will once again be able to install plants and apply outdoor irrigation in the evening to early morning hours, city officials are stressing the importance of continuing to conserve water.

“We don’t want people to just go wild and take 20 minute showers and water their lawns all the time — we still have a problem,” Healdsburg Mayor Evelyn Mitchell said during the conservation discussion.

The move from Stage 3 to Stage 2 means the conservation requirement will be dropping from 40% to 20%, and while this is a 20% drop, residents will still have to follow several conservation measures.

In part, the measures include:

• Stop the washing of sidewalks, walkways, driveways, parking lots and other hard-surfaced areas by direct hosing, except as may be necessary to prevent or eliminate materials that present a danger to public health and safety.

• Correct and repair the escape of water through breaks or leaks within the customer’s plumbing or private distribution system.

• Apply outdoor irrigation water only during the evening and early morning hours to reduce evaporation losses (8 p.m. to 7 a.m.)

• Stop the noncommercial washing of privately owned motor vehicles, trailers or boats except when utilizing a bucket and hose equipped with an automatic shut-off.

• The city will not accept or approve building permits for new swimming pools unless the owner agrees to obtain pool water from a source other than the City’s potable water system.

• Refilling of a swimming pool except when topping off to prevent damage to pump and filter equipment is not allowed.

• Require water for construction to be recycled water.

• Use fire hydrants for fire fighting and agency-required flushing.

• Utilize water conservation incentives offered by the city.

Under Stage 2, new plantings or replacement plantings will be allowed as well as lawn conversions and the repair and planting of rain gardens damaged or prohibited by the drought.

 According to Patrick Fuss, the city’s principal water and wastewater engineer, city staff’s recommendation to shift to Stage 2 of the water shortage contingency plan stems from several factors.

“Record rainfall in October has allowed Lake Mendocino to begin recovering storage. Improving water supply conditions have led the State Water Resources Control Board to temporarily lift the water right curtailment throughout the Russian River watershed,” Fuss said.

In late October, the state water board announced water right curtailment suspensions throughout the Russian River and the board expects the temporary lift on curtailments to last through Nov. 30, at which time the board expects to permanently lift some or all water right curtailments.

With the temporary suspension of water right curtailments, the city of Healdsburg has sufficient water supplies from its senior Fitch water right to meet demands, which are forecasted at 45 million gallons for December and 28 million gallons for February 2022, according to the council agenda report.

“I want to move forward with staff’s recommendation … but I want to be mindful that we might need to be watching very carefully when looking at that curve around our water use and getting very far in front of when water use may be going up but flows may be going down so that if we do need to increase going from level two up to three again or beyond, that we are giving ample time for the adoption,” said Councilmember Ariel Kelley. “While we are moving in the right direction given where the flows are at right now, I’m definitely concerned about where this is going to put us in six months.” 

Healdsburg City Manager Jeff Kay said the city can certainly continue to offer drought and water supply updates to the council during city council meetings and staff will continue to monitor the drought situation.

Mayor Mitchell wanted to know what the city may do differently this time to get the word about conservation measures. Fuss said while city staff hasn’t looked into messaging methods yet, he said perhaps staff and elected officials can be a part of crafting a message to residents about conservation.

Fuss also cautioned that conservation will likely be needed throughout the spring and he noted that some level of conservation will be expected this summer.

“We are well behind where we should be,” Fuss said of the reservoir levels.

According to Sonoma Water data, Lake Sonoma is currently at 49.7% of its capacity and has a storage level of 121,760 acre-feet. The lake’s total water supply capacity is 245,000 acre-feet. Lake Mendocino is currently at 35.5% of its water supply curve and is at a level of 19,467 acre-feet. The targeted water supply curve for Lake Mendocino is 54,877 acre-feet, according to the same data.

“The recent atmospheric rivers brought much-needed rain to our region and saturated the soil, which allowed runoff to into our reservoirs. Reservoirs are still at historic lows and many more storms are needed to bring their storage levels up to normal and bring an end to the drought. These initial storm was not a drought buster, we still need conservation from our community,” according to the “current water supply levels” page of the Sonoma Water website.

Additionally, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water conservation order still remains in effect and calls for 15% conservation across the state.

With the city council OKing the move to Stage 2 conservation, Healdsburg city staff will begin the process to update and implement a revised water shortage ordinance.

Staff Writer

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine has been a staff writer with The Healdsburg Tribune and SoCoNews for over two years. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism.

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