Water faucet stock

As the drought intensifies in Sonoma County, Sebastopol has launched its water utilities program designed to make water conservation upgrades more affordable, according to a May 25 city press release.

Single-family water customers in Sebastopol can now enroll for the Water Upgrades $ave Sebastopol program that uses a fixed on-bill charge so locals can save water and money on upgrades “with little-to-no upfront cost,” the press release said.

Single-family homeowners and renters can enroll online or by phone and set up a free home assessment to choose what upgrades to install “that make the most sense for your property.”

Multifamily water customers also qualify for the program, the press release said, though it did not say when they could enroll. The city directed multi-family property owners to contact Water Upgrades $ave for a project assessment “and (to) identify your savings opportunity.”

The May 25 press release listed high-efficiency showerheads, toilets and aerators as indoor water efficiency upgrades that qualify, along with projects to transition to drought tolerant landscaping in the coming months. Upgrades would comply with the building code and decrease water, sewer and water-heating costs, said the press release.

According to the city, the free home assessment involves a water specialist who comes over, collects data on existing fixtures, calculates estimated savings and works with the customer to choose upgrades, settle the agreement and schedule the contractor.

After the program puts the upgrades in place, the program operator checks for quality and the on-bill charges start, the press release said. According to the city’s statement, cost savings start from the beginning because the on-bill charge is set below the customer’s projected savings in their utility bills. 

“So, this means the customer will begin saving right away and yet they use a portion of their savings over time, through this monthly charge, to pay off the cost of the project,” program manager Chris Cone said at the Jan. 19 city council meeting when the program was adopted. “And this puts each customer in a cash-positive position, with no out-of-pocket, in order to participate in the program.”

The program seeks to help towns and cities adapt to drought conditions, state and local water efficiency targets and to make the upgrades available for low and middle-income customers and renters, according to a Jan. 21 announcement from the Association of Bay Area Governments, sponsoring the regional water service with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney, who’s on the Sebastopol Water Subcommittee, is quoted in the May 25 announcement saying, “The Water Upgrades $ave Program gives our water customers an affordable tool to lower their water and utility bills. I anticipate great interest, not only due to the savings, but also because we are a community of activists who want to conserve.”

In April, both Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors declared a state of drought emergency in Sonoma County.

Meanwhile, on May 4 the Sebastopol City Council adopted a 10% voluntary cutback on water as a goal for the city, outlining seven requests for the city’s potable water customers.

The city is asking its customers to lower evaporation losses by irrigating only in the early morning and evening and assess their irrigation systems, fixing leaks and adjusting spray heads. In addition, the resolution lists adapting irrigation run time for lawns to the weather and lowering run time if water escapes to ditches and gutters before the end of the cycle.

Further, the resolution outlining the 10% cutback calls for customers to take up “water conservation rebate and giveaway programs to replace water guzzling plumbing fixtures and appliances with water efficient models,” use city information to learn more about reading water meters, fixing leaks, adapting landscape for more conservation and familiarize with “this chapter.”

These voluntary conservation measures are in the first of three stages in the city’s water shortage contingency plan and can be read in the Municipal Code 13.06.70.

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