Two questions: How will the city of Healdsburg use water to prioritize livability not profitability?

“If we could wave a magic wand to get anyone to do anything, what behavior would we have people do?”

Brigette Mansell

Really. I pondered these two questions sitting under my Valley oak tree, its limbs whipping around in May’s 20 mph winds. This 100-year-old tree has been my steady companion this past year of separation. Unlike Shel Silverstein’s book, “The Giving Tree,” our relationship is reciprocal in nature.

Water is precious and central to life. I remember seeing my, now 28-year-old boy-girl twins, their sixth month, in utero, because of water; the sonogram revealed their size and gender.

Daily, during this more than yearlong pandemic, I hand-water my shrubs and trees and finally, a small vegetable garden.

Healdsburg knows we are in deep trouble. Our Urban Water Management Plan is due July 1 and the May 18 stakeholder Zoom meeting was called: “Deep Dive.” Our discourse, our conversations, are studded with allusions to water. I taught high school English for 38 years in the Santa Rosa City Schools and literature study is steeped in water symbolism. Poetry or prose, we fished for aquatic imagery recognizing this potent, baptismal discourse.

Now, as a 60-year-old Healdsburg citizen, I am reflecting on how I can support my town, our beloved Sonoma County, our dry state. No normal to lean back on. We are really up the creek.

Last week, several Healdsburg full-time residents met under my oak and generated questions, and made wishes. All  of this began with a tangible “magic wand” being placed in each of our hands. Developed at Stanford, this method invited us to do some California Dreaming and we individually, then collectively, brainstormed and co-produced meaningful actions people can take to address this crisis of Climate. It was magical and specific, practical and visionary. We did not limit ourselves to proposed actions by our city council or city manager. We wished for actions from various sources: our local newspaper, our chamber of commerce, Senator McGuire and our residents.

Here are just 10 of the over 40 ideas generated to share with our community:

1. The city of Healdsburg creates a Water Wise Volunteer program to support changed behaviors: landscape modifications, watering, timers, greywater use and residential truck delivery of recycled water from Healdsburg’s sewer treatment plant.

 2. Engage our local newspaper, city and neighborhood social media pages to publish stories from utility residents who are implementing creative solutions to working on fewer than 50 gallons per person in household.

3. Create a target date and  make it visible so residents and our tourists/guests see our progress. Erect a sign on the roundabout or in front of city hall showing our progress.

4. Recycle water. Reuse our own treated water. At this time, we literally give our treated water away to agriculture.This so-called “expensive project” is an investment our utility payers/owners benefit from.

5. Employ at least two water interns to support our Conservation Analyst in her efforts to find and monitor solutions.

6. Publish in local newspapers and on social media the breakdown of use: Lawns and outside plants versus indoor uses.

7. Ask our Chamber of Commerce to engage our hotels. (387 in 2015 has grown in number to in 678 hotel rooms). Our guests need to help.

8. Purple pipe, whether it is going to be used right away or not!, must be required for any new water hook up.

9. The city must halt all water hook ups on non-essential development. Tough times call for it.

10. Water excesses, overuse, must be monitored and, yes, fined.

Suggestion: To achieve water equity, utility users, households, should be aiming for a number of gallons per day per person and not an overall reduction of 20%. Some Healdsburg residents already employ conservation habits such as: buckets in showers, using grey water, low flush toilets and drought-resilient plantings.

Water use and overuse is the topic for 2021: we know awareness and education is best achieved through collaboration, but the severity of this crisis, already visible, palpable in late May, depends on policy choices and participation.

A seated democracy, on Zoom, with screens and host controls and mute buttons must not be our rule.

Unmute yourself, speak, converse, talk to your neighbors,

Get off the screen and engage in our water scene.

Brigette Mansell is a full time resident of Healdsburg and served four full years on city council and mayor in 2018.

(1) comment

Gaiil Jonas

Another resident and I have been, and continue, to promote a demonstration project that uses water four times, then is sent to a "constructed wetland." The success of this project has already been shown at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas. It creates neighborhood watersheds so the water doesn't go into one sewer system. Hormones can't be filtered out by a sewer system, but the constructed wetland can.

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