As I write this column, it is an unusually warm spring day, and red flag alerts have been issued for Solano County and other east bay communities. There is a sense of optimism in the air as we emerge from our pandemic fog after more than a year of a challenging, transformed existence of sacrifice and loss. Even as we let ourselves experience the joy and gratitude of lowering case numbers and high vaccination rates in our community, we in Sonoma County know that we will be in for another challenge: a dry year.
On April 27th, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution proclaiming a local drought emergency and requesting the governor seek a Presidential Disaster Declaration. This followed Governor Gavin Newsom’s visit to Lake Mendocino on April 21st, where he proclaimed a state of emergency in Sonoma and Mendocino counties due to drought conditions in the Russian River Watershed.
Sonoma County is experiencing a second consecutive year of severely below-average rainfall. As a result, water supply levels at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma are at historic lows. We anticipate voluntary water conservation measures to be adopted by local cities and water agencies and the potential for mandatory measures as well. Even in the face of drought conditions, I know that Sonoma County residents are always ready to step up and do whatever they can to support our community. The drought is here – help us save water.
Sonoma Water, the county’s water agency, is very concerned about water levels in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. Lake Mendocino is at 43% of the target supply curve and Lake Sonoma is at 61% of water supply capacity. Both reservoirs are at the lowest storage level for this time of year since they filled. Hydrologic modelling by Sonoma Water engineering staff indicates that without timely measures to reduce diversions from the Russian River, Lake Mendocino could reach levels too low to support releases for water supply and fish migration by fall of 2021.
You can help beat this drought by saving water.
The Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership is a great resource for water saving tips. Reducing your water use can be easy; reduce your outdoor irrigation by one day a week; reduce your showers by two minutes; don’t waste water outdoors or indoors.
Sonoma Water will continue to closely monitor water supply conditions locally. You can stay updated on drought conditions by visiting sonomawater.org.
Prepare for Fire Season – Vegetation Management Opportunities
Dry conditions inevitably force our community to contemplate the forthcoming fire season. We begin our usual preparedness activities: maintaining the defensible space around our homes, locating and updating our go-bags, and reminding ourselves of our evacuation plans.
This year, the county has developed a new program as another resource for preparedness activities. Last week, we announced the opening of solicitation for the vegetation management grant program, providing access to between $2-4 million for local fire prevention for the 2021 wildfire season for eligible applicants. The program is housed within the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District; for more detailed information about the grant program and its application process, visit the Ag + Open Space website.
The funding for the vegetation management program comes from the PG&E settlement awarded to the County as a result of the 2017 Sonoma Complex Fires lawsuit. Last fall, when the Board of Supervisors worked to prioritize areas for the allocation of these funds, we heard our community loud and clear: vegetation management was and is a top priority.
While the board has allocated funding towards vegetation management for future years we are, in this moment, thinking about the 2021 fire season. You may be wondering, what kind of projects would qualify for the grant program this year? The goal of the grant program is to enable applicants to conduct high-priority, near-term vegetation management activities in high-risk areas and near key ecosystems. In other words, we are looking for applicants with projects that are shovel-ready. In the interest in jumpstarting this work as soon as possible, the grant program allows us to utilize the existing network of incredible local organizations and districts already engaged in fire prevention activities. Those eligible to apply for the grants include nonprofit organizations, community organizations, local fire districts, communities with Community Wildfire Protection Plans in place, Resource Conservation Districts, licensed foresters, technical advisors, and schools.
Several regions that overlap with the First District have been identified as favorable for grant awards, including Mark West and the Tubbs and Glass fire corridors, and the Sonoma Valley, including Mayacama Ridge, Sonoma Mountain/Bennett Ridge, and adjoining communities.
Grant applications must be received by Sunday, May 16, 2021 at 5 p.m.
This is such important work, and I highly encourage all eligible applicants to apply. We need to do everything we can to prepare our community for the upcoming fire season, and I am hopeful that this grant program proves to be another shining example of what our community can do when we come together.
I have heard from many 2017 and 2020 fire survivors in the First District who may not be part of a community that has a Fire Safe Council or COPE group. I want to make clear that even if you miss this grant opportunity, there are other sources of help for you as well. Please reach out to the Sonoma Resource Conservation District (RCD) who may be able to apply on your behalf for the Ag and Open Space grants if you have immediate needs for vegetation management in a critical area. The RCD routinely provides technical assistance as well on a variety of related vegetation management issues, and have a registered professional forester on staff. Sonoma Ecology Center is another great resource for technical assistance.
Even if you can’t apply for this opportunity offered through Ag and Open Space this year, know that there are other opportunities for financial assistance for your vegetation management needs, particularly those with acres and acres of burned trees. The North Bay Forest Improvement Program is currently accepting applications. There are also Forest Stewardship Workshops coming up in Sonoma County that will help landowners create a Forest Management Plan—something that is required for many grant opportunities.
To apply or learn more about the Vegetation Management grant program, visit https://www.sonomaopenspace.org/vegmanagement
For more information about current water supply conditions, please visit https://sonomawater.org/currentwater-supply-levels
For more information about how to save water, please visit https://savingwaterpartnership.org