A recent report revealed that the City of Sonoma’s water use reduction is the worst in Sonoma County, at only 3.8% as compared with last year. If you recall, the city’s target for reduction was set at 20%, and although not every city in Sonoma County hit that target, most came far closer to it than Sonoma did.
On the face of it, our results are dismal, but it’s important to remember that they’re calculated at per capita water use, an average number determined by the total volume of water used divided by the population of water customers. What has not been revealed publicly is water use by customer, and it is within that data that a truer average may be found.
Without question, large water users are pushing our statistical average higher; who those users are can only be guessed, however. It would be valuable to know which water customers are using the most water, and how their use compares year-to-year. We suspect that the 80/20 rule may apply, which is to say 20% of our water customers are using 80% of the water. We’ll never know unless actual figures are made public.
There’s no question that some very green lawns and lush shrubbery are thriving in the City of Sonoma. And there’s also no question that the wealthiest among us can easily afford to pay high water bills, no matter how lofty, to keep their gardens green. And what about commercial users? This naturally raises the question: are most customers conserving water so that an extraordinary few can use more than they need?
The City of Sonoma could easily reveal who uses the most water in town, and it should.
Yet another problem facing the city, however, is not its water use, but its water department staffing. During a recent City Council meeting, it was revealed that this is a big problem. Sonoma maintains its own water department, but its employees are shared with our Public Works Department. This would appear to be of benefit, as employees can fill multiple roles, but an extraordinary number of such city employees have left Sonoma and now the city is struggling to fill not only line positions, but positions requiring specially trained and qualified water department managers.
Why we’ve lost so many key personnel is unexplained, but the reason the city can’t fill the positions is fairly simple: we don’t pay high enough salaries to attract the qualified people we need.
Providing safe water to drink means regular testing and having trained professionals to manage our water system; to do that has now required the city to agree to pay an exorbitant sum of money to the Valley of the Moon Water District to provide skilled management, this due to our unwillingness to pay higher regular salaries to attract the employees needed to insure safe drinking water.
At the Sun we’ve long been concerned about city finances, and perplexed as to why our budget is continually strained despite robust revenues, sales tax hikes, and growing community wealth. Over the past decade, city revenues have grown substantially but somehow this never translates into amassing a hefty surplus, or it appears, even enough to compensate expert staff. Our water woes demand responsiveness to the community and also point to a larger problem.