California agriculture biz paying monumental price for mild winter
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By Mira Brody  January 31, 2014 12:00 am

Although it is well-known for those long summer days waterskiing, camping, fishing and swimming, Lake Sonoma is responsible for so much more of our daily lives down here than just a vacation, a resource that is quickly becoming extremely vulnerable.

A record-breaking drought is “threatening the country’s most populous state,” as officially proclaimed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week. Although the announcement was shocking, it does not take a news bulletin to recognize that a 70-degree rainless winter is not a positive outlook for such a populous and agriculture-based part of the country.

During Sonoma County’s last serious drought of 1977 it was decided to build a dam, creating the reservoir of Lake Sonoma, maintained and operated by the U.S. Army Corps. Today, we bank heavily on both Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino for our water resources, both of which rely solely on yearly rainfall. Sonoma, which has a few carry over years left, is currently at 67 percent, the lowest on record, and Mendocino is at 36 percent capacity with no carry over.

“Everything depends on mother nature,” explains Brad Sherwood, who manages city and community government affairs for the Sonoma County Water Agency. “Every city has its own water shortage contingency plan, and as a region we have rules put into place; like if Lake Sonoma does fall to 100,000 feet by September, there will be a mandatory water reduction of 30 percent, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t call for that action earlier.”

The Sonoma County Water Agency is a wholesale water supplier to nine water utilities, pumping about 1.7 billion gallons of clean drinking water a year to Rohnert Park city limits alone.

Being spoiled with mild winters comes at a price, however. The state itself has already been requested to support a voluntary household water reduction of 20 percent, and Sherwood’s official press release issued throughout the county last week implemented the motto: “The drought is on. Turn the water off.”

“The first thing is to reduce outdoor irrigation. Residents will be required to turn off water outside,” says Sherwood on upcoming cutbacks. “But cities regulate water shortage plans, and they have the right to institute fines. We’re hoping it doesn’t get to that.”

A drought does much more than make our landscape a dry dreary place. It also affects the air quality we take for granted here on the coast and places strain on the agricultural economy. Farmers have to use irrigation usually saved for hot summer months and will soon, if not already, import water resources, costing tons of extra money low-income farming families do not have.

There are habits residents can adapt in order to help conserve water during California’s current drought. Install outdoor irrigation drip systems instead of wasteful sprinklers, reduce showers by five minutes daily, wash only full loads of clothes and dishes, and take your car to a carwash that utilizes recycled water.

We may sport dead lawns and filthy cars, but if we cut usage as a community, we will be sure to continue having easily acquirable tap water for years to come. The idea is to not forget it is a statewide issue affecting everyone, and that any changes will help in the long run to create a more sustainably responsible community.

To find out more about Sonoma County’s water resources or to find ways to cut back on usage, visit www.wateroff.org.

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