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Healdsburg Faces Severe Water Shortage, Implements Mandatory Conservation Program

Healdsburg City Manager Marjie Pettus said she is surprised Healdsburg is included on the list of 17 communities and water districts identified by the state Department of Public Health.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.
Last week, the state Department of Public Health identified 17 rural communities and water districts it said may face a severe water shortage in the next 60-100 days.

The cities of Cloverdale and Healdsburg in Sonoma County and the Lompico Water Department in Santa Cruz County were among the list of vulnerable rural drinking water systems, according to the Department of Public Health.

"As the severe drought continues, we're working with impacted communities to identify alternative water sources and additional resources," California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ron Chapman said.

When he declared a drought state of emergency in late January, Gov. Jerry Brown directed the state public health department to identify communities that may run out of drinking water. He also directed the health department to identify emergency interconnections that exist among the state's water systems and to provide technical and financial assistance to address water shortages.

The health department said it will help those communities implement conservation measures, identify possible additional sources of water, including hauled water and water from nearby systems, and provide guidance on the possible construction of additional wells to meet their needs.

The list was developed from a survey of the state's community water systems, and it may change as the systems make changes or when additional vulnerable water systems are identified, the health department said.

Healdsburg City Manager Marjie Pettus said she is surprised Healdsburg is included on the list. Last week the city of 11,700 residents began a mandatory conservation program that prohibits car washing unless it is at a car wash that recycles water, washing driveways and streets and limits irrigation of lawns and gardens to three days a week, Pettus said.

Filling empty swimming pools in the popular wine region tourist destination also is prohibited, but topping off pools that are already filled is allowed to protect pool filters and other equipment.

The goal is to reduce water consumption 20 percent, Pettus said.

Healdsburg gets its water from city wells that are fed by the Russian River, and it also has access to wells in the Dry Creek area.

"We have sufficient water to meet 100 percent of our demand," Pettus said. "We are very comfortable."

The city does not intend to issue citations for violations of the mandatory conservation, but will conduct an education campaign instead, Pettus said.

Pettus said the fact Healdsburg started mandatory conservation and draws water from the Russian River might have led to the assumption it faces a severe water shortage. Healdsburg is not a member of the Sonoma County Water Agency that supplies water to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and northern Marin County. The water agency began a winter water conservation campaign earlier this month.

On Jan. 22, Cloverdale declared a Stage Two water shortage emergency because of a "severe" water shortage. Residents are required to reduce water use by 25 percent. Watering lawns and gardens except with a hand-held hose or container and drip irrigation is discouraged. Residents using sprinklers must reduce water use by 25 percent. Initial or refilling of swimming pools is prohibited, and water at restaurants and other public areas where food is sold will be served only by request.

The Lompico Water Department in Felton eight miles from Santa Cruz has 494 hookups serving 1,200-1,500 residents. The water department usually draws 25,000 gallons of water a day from Lompico Creek and three wells that supply 43 gallons a minute.

Lois Henry, president of the water department's board of directors, said water has not been drawn from the creek since August, and one of the three wells is offline.

"There were 13 days in December when the well was off and we pumped only 29 gallons a minute," Henry said.

Six redwood water storage tanks that normally hold 440,000 gallons of water now contain 360,000 gallons. The water department's board of directors declared a Stage Three mandatory water conservation effort to reduce water use 30 percent, Henry said.

"To reduce use by 30 percent is huge," she said. The Santa Cruz County Office of Emergency Services has contacted the water department, Henry said. "They said, 'What do you need?' I said we need another water source, a tie-in with another water district or water trucked in. I don't have an answer," Henry said.

Henry said the Felton area in the Santa Cruz Mountains normally gets 50-70 inches of rain a year.

"We had 1 1/4 inch since July, one inch in December and none in January," Henry said. "I've lived here 43 years and I've never seen it like this," she said.

—Bay City News

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