Jun 15, 2004

Water Agency Warns of Possible Restrictions

Countywide System Nearing Capacity – Conservation Urged

Sonoma County residents could be forced to limit water use this summer warned the county’s leading water provider adding that the network of pumps and pipes that delivers water to most homes and businesses is nearing full capacity.
The Sonoma County Water Agency provides water to 570,000 residents in Sonoma and northern Marin counties.
The increase in water consumption in April and May triggered warnings that demand could exceed the capacity of the agency’s transmission system this summer, when water use traditionally peaks.
"It's what I refer to as a plumbing problem," said Pam Jeane, the agency’s deputy chief engineer. "We’re not in a drought, but we have transmission system problems."
On Monday, the agency sent a letter to cities and water districts that use its water to immediately implement water-conservation measures and increase use of their own ground water supplies to reduce demand on the agency’s water supply, The Press Democrat reported.
If voluntary measures fail, cities and water districts can force residents and businesses to reduce water consumption by imposing restrictions on watering lawns and gardens, filling pools and washing cars.
Currently, the agency can meet a demand of 84 million gallons of water each day. In May, it delivered 75 million gallons per day – 10 percent higher than the previous record for that month of 68 million gallons set in 2001. This month, demand is at 80 million gallons per day.
"We hope we can take voluntary steps to reduce water use and continue our ability to serve people, but there may be requirements this summer if the demand stays on that kind of curve," said Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Reilly, who is also on the water agency board of directors.
The water agency, a wholesale provider selling water to cities and water districts that supply it to homes and businesses, provides water to Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sonoma and Novato, and the communities of Larkfield, Kenwood, Forestville and Penngrove. Windsor and southern Marin County also draw water from the agency on occasion.
Mandatory water restrictions are largely a responsibility of cities and water districts under existing contracts, Reilly said. But the water agency is reviewing those contracts to determine if it has any leverage to force sweeping reductions in water use.
"We’re looking at all the options, both in terms of public education for voluntary conservation, plus what authority we have for mandatory reductions," Reilly said. "We thought it was important to get the word out to let people know about the problem even if we don’t have the whole solution."
A solution to the existing problem entails building more pipelines and storage tanks as well as drawing more water from the Russian River to expand the system’s delivery capacity. But water agency officials say it will be at least 10 years before that happens because of concerns about endangered fish in the river and lawsuits from environmentalists opposed to an expansion.
"We’re going to be living with the plumbing system in the ground for at least 10 years," Jeane said. "This summer is one thing, but looking out into the future it could get worse."
Jeane said cities and water districts have done a good job in the past five years reducing indoor water use by providing incentives and rebates on low-flush toilets, water-conserving plumbing fixtures and washing machines.
However, outdoor water use on gardens and lawns – which peaks in the hottest months – must be reduced given the transmission capacity problems, she said.
Water agency director Randy Poole said a new facility to pump Russian River water into the system was supposed to be finished this year, but it won’t be completed until next year at the earliest. Even when that is completed, pipelines that bring water to Petaluma and the Sonoma Valley are at full capacity or nearing it, he said.
"It's going to be a while before things get easier," Poole said. "People are trying to conserve, but we have to do a lot more."