A walk around the Valley reveals just how dry it’s been this year. All the major creeks are running low, and unless things change during a March Miracle, we may have reached our high water mark for the year.
Sonoma Creek, Nathanson Creek, Fryer Creek, and their tributaries don’t directly contribute to our drinking water which, aside from individual wells drawing potable water, comes from the Russian River. That water is delivered via pipe southward through the Sonoma Valley, providing water that both the Valley of the Moon Water District and the City of Sonoma’s Water Department then sells to its customers, both residential and commercial. Although the population of the Valley and City of Sonoma has risen during the past three decades, the size of the pipeline delivering water to our area remains the same as when it was installed. Given that limitation, the Sonoma County Water Agency cannot physically deliver the volume of water it has contractually obligated itself to deliver to the City of Sonoma.
Speaking of well water, a great deal of the water needs of rural residents and vineyards is provided by tapping our valley’s underground aquifers, a system of vaults of below-ground water accumulated over hundreds and thousands of years in a vast and often interconnected network. The use of well water remains largely unregulated. Our groundwater used to be readily accessible, and wells even 20 or 30 feet deep could tap into it. Today wells are often drilled as deeply as 500 feet or more in search of aquifers, and underground saltwater is intruding ever further up the Valley from the south to fill the void that’s been created. This has rendered progressively more well water unfit for use.
The use of treated waste water is increasing, but has a long way to go for full public acceptance. You might have noticed projects installing purple-colored PVC piping; that purple piping carries recycled water pumped up the valley from the Sanitation District Plant on Eighth Street East near Highway 121. A number of vineyards now use that water for irrigation, a trend that might reduce the use of other water sources.
All this points to the distinct possibility of yet another drought this year, and the prospect of water rationing. Rainfall is at only 40 percent of normal to date, and it’s not too early to begin thinking about ways to conserve before limits are set by water delivery agencies. Hopefully, everyone has turned off their automatic irrigation systems; they should remain inactive until rainfall stops. And it’s always an option to remove and replace landscaping with plants that require little water. It’s been encouraging to see new homes designed with native, drought-tolerant plants instead of grassy lawns. In our opinion, grassy lawns should no longer be an option.
Our drinking water has become considerably more expensive than it used to be. Water bills for a single family home in the City of Sonoma, which has the highest water rates in the area, often top $50 a month. Saving water also means saving money. It’s not premature to begin thinking about water use, and regardless of the weather, it’s always a good idea.