As drought conditions continue in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, Sebastopol water customers can sign up for a new program with the city that helps them save water and lower their utility bills through water efficiency upgrades.
Enrollment for the “Water Upgrades $ave” program, approved by the Sebastopol City Council in January of this year, is now open, according to a statement released by the city.
The program is offered by Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) with a financial sponsorship from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
The Water Upgrades $ave program is based on a Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority Pay-As-You-Save pilot, which was originally launched in the Town of Windsor in 2012 before being piloted in Hayward and the East Bay Municipal Utility District, according to city staff.
With no up-front cost, participating municipal water utility customers can install water conservation improvements using an on-bill charge that is lower than the amount of money saved monthly in savings, allowing participants to conserve water while lowering their utility bills in the long-run.
“This vetted water and energy-saving program is possible through a partnership with BayREN, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). The Water Upgrades $ave is designed to promote water conservation and energy efficiency as a California way of life,” the BayRen website states.
Eligible single family water customers can enroll in the program, which begins with a free home assessment that determines water eligibility upgrades based on the specifics of the home. Water specialists come to the home and collect data on existing fixtures, calculating estimate savings, assisting customers with product selection, completing any agreements and scheduling contractors.
“Sebastopol had the foresight to be the first Bay Area City to enroll in this program, before the drought was declared," Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney said. “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.”
Current upgrades include high-efficiency toilets, aerators and efficient shower heads. In the coming months, the service will also provide conversion to drought tolerant landscaping to help conserve water outdoors.
As of June 2, 73 single family households in Sebastopol had scheduled free water assessments. Thirty water customers have already received their water assessments and 14 have decided to proceed with installations. City staff said there is a lot of interest in the program, and many who have had the assessment are waiting to receive a summary report showing estimated savings prior to making a decision.
Multifamily properties may also be eligible for the Water Upgrades $ave program.
According to the BayREN website, as of 2020, 584 multi-family units and 247 single family projects have been completed. Average water savings for participating multifamily units were 30 percent, and 20 percent for participating single family houses.
Water conservation is desperately needed in Sonoma County, which, along with Mendocino County, is facing a historic drought. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought in the region at from the banks of Lake Mendocino in April, which was at 43-percent capacity at the time.
Sonoma Water, which provides manages water resources throughout the region and delivers water to 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin Counties, has since called for a voluntary 20-percent reduction in water usage. While the restrictions are voluntary for the time being, if water levels in the Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino reservoirs continue to drop, threatening to destroy local ecosystems in addition to threatening the human water supply, restrictions will likely become mandatory with fees associated with excess water usage.
Sebastopol water customers can find more information on enrollment by visiting www.waterupgradessave.com or calling (877) 846-8795.