Russian River low

On June 7, the Healdsburg City Council adopted a resolution that requires all commercial, residential and industrial customers to achieve a 40% reduction in water usage, or provide the city with a request for exemption that includes that good faith efforts have been made to achieve the highest level of water reduction for the customer.

Residential water customers will be assigned a water budget of 300 cubic feet per person per month.

The new mandate comes on the heels of a May 25 State Water Board notice to the city of Healdsburg that the city can no longer divert water from the Russian River for its use, meaning that the city’s Russian River water rights are no longer available.

Additionally, recent water supply forecasts from Sonoma Water predict that without conservation efforts, Lake Mendocino is expected to be dry by Oct. 1.

Lake Mendocino is currently at 40% of its target water supply levels after only receiving 38% of normal rainfall totals last winter. Terry Crowley, the city’s utility department director, said the current lake levels are probably the lowest in the history of Lake Mendocino.

Consequently, the following conservation steps — which include Stage 1, 2 and 3 of the city’s water shortage emergency plan — are required in order to maintain water supply to sustain public health and safety needs for the remainder of the year:

      Residential customers are assigned a water budget of 300 cubic feet per person per month.

      Commercial customers are required to reduce water usage by 40%.

      Irrigation of lawns (commercial, residential, or industrial) is prohibited day or night.

      Sprinklers and drip irrigation is prohibited.

•      Planting of new landscaping is prohibited.

      Hosing down driveways and hardscapes is prohibited.

      Washing personal vehicles is prohibited.

      New swimming pool permits will not be authorized unless water is sourced from outside Healdsburg’s potable water system.

      Dust control, compaction, and other construction must use recycled water; potable water is prohibited.

Hand-watering is allowed so long as it's within the allotted water budget.

On May 2, the city implemented Stage 2 water conservation efforts with the goal of having utility customers reduce their water usage by 20%, however, over the month of May the city used 3% more water than what was used in May 2020.

“Sonoma Water has created a very detailed water supply forecast for water that’s going to affect the upper Russian River and that upper Russian River starts from Healdsburg and goes all the way to Ukiah,” Crowley said.

Assuming that bold water conservation measures are put in place, “Sonoma Water is forecasting an 85% reduction in usage and what that allows is for Sonoma Water to maintain 20,000 acre-feet, which is a very low number for that storage, by Oct. 1. Beyond that, Sonoma Water is uncertain what the rainfall will be next winter and that is why they feel it is so important to maintain that 20,000 acre-feet as we head into the next winter.”

According to the Sonoma Water forecasts, if the 85% reduction in water usage is achieved then Lake Mendocino will not go dry until July of 2022.

“There may be a need for additional curtailment if we have below average rainfall again,” Crowley said.

At this time, the city’s water rights to Dry Creek remain unaffected, but the city’s contract with Sonoma Water has been reduced by 20%.

According to the city staff report, under these conditions the city is left with enough water to supply roughly 60% of the city’s summertime water needs.

Crowley stressed that if conservation is not achieved soon, water available through Sonoma Water will run out leaving the city with only the Dry Creek water rights, which may result in further water use restrictions.

The original recommended action by city staff was to adopt a resolution implementing Stage 3 of the city’s water shortage emergency plan with the additional conservation measures listed above and only allowing hand-watering of previously planted vegetable gardens and fruit trees outside of the daytime hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and requiring all businesses to reduce their water usage by 40% based on 2020 usage.

Staff also recommended to council to allow the use of city hydrants by licensed potable water haulers to supply drinking water to properties in unincorporated Healdsburg without other sources of drinking water.

Also, with the lack of water city parks, fields and school athletic fields are expected to be damaged. To limit the damage at these facilities, city staff is working on plans to provide a limited amount of irrigation by use of recycled water.

According to the agenda item report, “Recycled water would have to be halted to the city every day multiple times a day for this. Only some city parks will have irrigation. Parks that may receive no irrigation include Badger Park, Barbieri Park, Gibbs Park, West Plaza Park and the skate park.” 

Councilmember David Hagele wasn’t a fan of the idea of having the government micromanage residents by telling them what they can water and what they can’t water, although he stated that lawns do seem to be the biggest water sucker.

Hagele said they should make the water mandate simple with a certain water allocation for all residents, that way people can decide on their own if they want to use their allocation to water their flowers or to shower.

Councilmember Ariel Kelley and others were concerned with the greenhouse gas emissions associated with hauling in recycled water each day for park maintenance.

Healdsburg Community Services Director Mark Themig noted that turf is easy to replace if needed, but it's more difficult to replace trees since they take a long time to become established.

Kelley also asked why Healdsburg requires more stringent water savings measures than other jurisdictions. Crowley said it is because Healdsburg relies on the upper Russian River, which is limited to Lake Mendocino conditions and what those storage levels are.

Mayor Evelyn Mitchell said it seems like we’re approaching this with a big stick rather than a carrot and some of the water savings incentives, such as lawn replacement, now won’t be possible under the Stage 3 restrictions.

“That feels a bit demoralizing I think for people who were in the process of replacing lawns,” Mitchell said.

Crowley said there are still incentives for folks to take advantage of such as appliance incentives for low-flow toilets, washing machines and shower heads.

There were also council member concerns regarding the effect of water reductions on businesses and some local businesses shared their concerns during public comment.

Circe Sher, who owns and operates Hotel Healdsburg, Harmon Guest House, H2 Hotel, Dry Creek Kitchen, Pizzando and Spoon Bar, said the 40% reduction would be very challenging.

“I understand the gravity of this water issue and I am very much in favor of conservation. While 2020 was a very rough year, the local hotel and restaurant industry seems to have finally turned the corner in the pandemic crisis. With case counts waning, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to finally be within reach as visitors and locals alike begin frequenting our businesses once again. The business impacts of a 40% reduction in water use, however, would be substantial and would nullify the recovery we have seen over the past few months,” Sher said. “As proposed the reduction would be based on the prior year. In 2020 our occupancy was dramatically lower than a typical year because of pandemic related travel restrictions and all properties were also fully closed for multiple months. Our water usage was therefore lower than a typical year, making a 40% reduction from 2020 usage an infeasible task.”

Sher said they’ve made major investments over the past decade to increase water efficiency and to decrease water use at their properties. She said each of their properties has dual flush toilets, low flow faucets, high efficiency irrigation systems and rain collection cisterns, which is used for irrigation.

Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Tallia Hart echoed Sher’s concerns and said many businesses have already implemented water use reduction measures and an additional 40% reduction would be difficult.

With these concerns in mind, the resolution stipulates that water customers can apply for an exemption to the 40% reduction but must show good faith efforts of reducing water usage to the best of their ability. The exemption must also be approved by city engineers.

Don McEnhill, the executive director of the Russian Riverkeeper, said he fully supports the Stage 3 measures and said it would be prudent to think of long term water conservation measures.

“It is going to be very hard on our community and remember the river, it is going to take a very grave toll on our river and its long term health this year and we’re looking at some of our tributaries of steelhead going extinct. I have to agree with staff recommendations ... It is really imperative, our backs are against the wall,” McEnhill said. “This is almost showing us climate futures. We live in a place that is subject to drought, we seem to forget that every time we change our landscaping to deal with the drought and then we go back to what we have, (but) we really need to change because this is something that is going to happen more frequently.”

 

Mandate details and how to track your water usage

In an effort to change the resolution to better fit the overall goal of achieving a 40% reduction in water usage citywide and in effort to address business and councilmember concerns with the resolution, council amended the resolution.

The final resolution reads, “A resolution of the city council of the city of Healdsburg implementing the stage 3 of Healdsburg’s water shortage emergency plan an additional conservation measures pursuant to Healdsburg Municipal Code section 13.12.220 and declaring emergency conditions pursuant to Healdsburg Municipal Code section 3.24.080, striking item 4C, and amending item 4A that would include the language, ‘require all commercial, residential and industrial customers to achieve 40% reduction in water usage or provide the city with a request for exemption that includes that good faith efforts have been made to achieve the highest level of water reduction for the customer with review and approval by the city’s engineer or their designee.”

Residents will be required to follow a water budget of three hundred cubic feet per person per month. One hundred cubic feet (HCF) is equivalent to 748 gallons.

Therefore, 3 HCF = 2244 gallons per month or 74 gallons per day, according to the city of Healdsburg. This will cover all indoor water needs to meet public health and safety requirements such as cooking, flushing, showering, cleaning.

Residents can monitor their monthly budget by checking their utility bill or water meter. Instructions on how to read your water meter can be found here.

Folks can also track their water footprint with a usage calculator.

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