The city of Healdsburg is requiring a 20% reduction in water use system-wide. The Healdsburg City Council voted unanimously to implement Stage 2 of its Water Shortage Emergency Plan on May 3, brought on by a significant drought.

“There is an insufficient water supply, and the only way we’re going to manage that is by reducing our demand,” said Felicia Smith, the city’s utility conservation analyst.

The city’s Water Shortage Emergency Plan outlines three stages for water reduction — Stage 1 is a voluntary 10% reduction in water use, Stage 2 is a mandatory 20% reduction and Stage 3 is a mandatory 40% reduction.

While city staff recommended, and the city council approved, implementation of Stage 2, Smith said that the city going to Stage 3 is within the realm of possibility, given the extent of the water shortage.

According to Smith, the city has 4,500 water utility customers, who in 2020 used a total of 833,891 hundred cubic feet of water. It uses 141 gallons per capita daily (GPCD), more than the average 107 GPCD used by the Sonoma-Marin region, which includes Windsor, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and a few other municipalities, Smith said.

“We’re walking into this drought already as a water-intensive community. To put a smaller point, the current water shortage cannot support business-as-usual water demands,” Smith said.

About 80% of the city’s water comes from the Russian River, with the remainder coming from Dry Creek and an agreement with Sonoma Water.

According to City Manager Jeff Kay, Healdsburg’s water rights pre-date the creation of both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma, but that doesn’t mean that it’s spared when it comes to water conservation.

“It creates a little bit of a complicated regulatory system,” he said. “Healdsburg does have rights to divert water from the Russian River, but we can’t do that if that diversion would threaten the vitality of the river and the life within the river — so there are limits to those rights, and that’s something we’ll have to be mindful of this year. Likely the state water board will be curtailing what we can divert from the Russian River this year, and that’s likely going to be part of a collaborative system that looks at not just Healdsburg in a vacuum, but all of the different users of the water system.”

The possibility that the city’s ability to divert water from the river will be curtailed is one of the reasons the city is discussing water conservation, Kay said.

What does Stage 2 of the water shortage plan mean?

Stage 2 of the city’s water shortage plan puts limitations on irrigation, restricting irrigation times from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sunday; other outdoor water uses, like hosing down outside surfaces, washing vehicles and building and refilling swimming pools; as well as both commercial and operational water use.

Addressing irrigation specifically, Smith said that people should try to lessen their water use within the time frame outlined, rather than irrigating the same amount. One way to water more effectively, she said, is to water in short 10-minute bursts which will allow the water time to soak into the soil.

“As we get deeper into this drought, we’re going to have to start to really reevaluate what are our fundamental water demands, and I think a lot of that is actually going to be indoors. It’s hydration, it’s sanitation, it’s cooking and irrigation is going to drop lower and lower on the prioritization list,” she said.

Commercial and operational-oriented water-saving measures include requiring that recycled water be used for dust control, compaction and other construction purposes; commercial use is limited to 80% of their corresponding billing period in 2020; drinking water to be served upon request at restaurants and food establishments; and city parks and Tayman Golf Course will demonstrate a 20% reduction in monthly usage, but allow irrigation on any day.

Because the water-saving is mandatory, the city will be enforcing the limitations and rules through leak alert notices and city staff performing irrigation compliance for residents who may be watering on the wrong day. High water users will be notified if reductions are not met

“I can’t emphasize enough, our community members care deeply. We have water vigilantes and they will speak up — I’ve gotten numerous calls from residents, be it (about) a broken sprinkler head, concerns about new pools, concerns about new lawns and so it’s extremely helpful for me that I have eyes in the community and I emphasize that your neighbors are paying attention,” Smith said.

Additionally, the city has a system for fines and administrative penalties for those who don’t heed the rules of the plan. Those who aren’t following the rules outlined in Stage 2 of the plan will receive a door tag, a formal letter and then, if a repeat offense occurs, the offender could be penalized up to $1,000 per day.

Smith pointed out that the city of Healdsburg does offer rebate programs for higher efficiency toilets and clothes washers as well as updates to irrigation systems.

The rebate breakdown is as follows:

●      Lawn conversion - $1/sq ft

●      Irrigation system upgrades such as a smart irrigation controller – $100 each

●      Low Flow Toilets - $110

●      Clothes washers – up to $125

●      Greywater System - $60

Councilmember Skylaer Palacios asked if schools or parks used recycled water and, if not, if there’s been discussion relating to implementing that. Community Services Director Mark Themig said they don’t, but that the city could talk about the possibility of implementing a greywater system for city parks if the council wants to.

Smith said that the process of implementing such a system for city parks would be costly, but that now would be an apt time for the city to chase funding for it.

Palacios also asked if hotels will be required to post signage about water reduction. Smith said that there isn’t a requirement, but that the city has spoken with the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce about trying to prop up water use as a key point with businesses. Councilmember Ariel Kelley asked that the city also communicate with the Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District about ways it can educate tourists on the water use restrictions.

Referencing the 2014 drought and related water shortage plan implementation, Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez asked if the city was able to achieve a 20% water reduction then. Smith said that the city was able to decrease water usage even further, following a state mandate that water use be reduced by 25%.

“With this 20% reduction, I do have to emphasize that a lot of it really can come from irrigation, but that’s not to say that there aren’t logical things you can do at home,” Smith said. “Collecting water in a bucket in the shower as you wait for hot water, being mindful of how long your showers are, certainly turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth — every drop really counts.”

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