Drastic water rationing in the North Bay

January 30, 2009 5:47:42 PM PST
The Sonoma County Water Agency is preparing to call for 30 to 50 percent mandatory water rationing soon. It could affect more than 700,000 residents.

All of that water comes from the Russian River and from two reservoirs where the water level is way down this year. County water officials are looking at numbers and making projections, but so far, things are not looking good.

Imagine spending $3,500 on a new lawn last year. John Russell of Santa Rosa did, and now he may have to watch it go brown.

"Well, I don't like it, but what can you do?" says Russell.

In Sonoma and northern Marin counties, especially, nobody likes it, but this is the third year of a drought -- a time for trickle-down trepidations.

"It's an extraordinary situation that we're in, and it's a bad situation that we're in, but we are trying to be proactive and get ahead of this thing and make sure that people know that what we are projecting is a very bad water year," says Pam Jeane, deputy chief engineer for Sonoma County Water Agency.

Jeane has made a lot of projections in recent weeks. She manages rainwater from the Russian River and two reservoirs with levels so low that their roots are showing. The water serves 700,000 people in Sonoma, northern Marin, and Mendocino counties.

On Monday, Jeane's agency will ask people to cut back by 30 percent, and maybe even more.

"I have not seen it like this in my career," says Jeane.

And that is a frightening thought in this drought, considering that residents have yet to see the worst of it.

"It's just one of those things that happens. You can't make the weather do what you want it to," says Russell.

Santa Rosa water officials are already conducting voluntary water rationing. They may now get into phase 2 rationing which entails 65 gallons of water per person, per day, and 2,500 gallons per month for the yard.