Drought prompts North Bay water warning

February 2, 2009 6:16:07 PM PST
Northern California's long dry spell is forcing water cutbacks for people in Sonoma County. On Monday, residents and businesses were told to prepare to reduce their water usage by as much as half.

Along the Russian River, the good old days of easy times and all the water you want are long gone.

"The flows from the reservoirs are lower than they have been in their histories," said Sonoma County Water District General Manager Randy Poole.

Now, the Sonoma County Water Agency is turning back the spigot. It began restricting flow on Monday.

Unless the watershed receives a miracle storm in the next month and Lake Mendocino reservoir fills, expect 30 percent usage cutbacks -- if not 50.

"Right now our reservoir is at 20,000 acre feet below where it was on this date in 1977," said Sean White from the Russian River Flood Control District.

Even here in Healdsburg, the river is way low. Parts that people can walk now are would usually be under water at this time of year.

The economic impact is even more significant. According to one expert, a 30 percent cutback will cost Sonoma and Marin counties some $5 billion and 37,000 jobs.

"It's when you run up on 25-30 percent that it really gets nasty," said Sonoma State University economist Robert Eyler, Ph.D.

"And 50?" asked ABC7's Wayne Freedman.

"I haven't even looked at 50. Fifty is something we had better hope doesn't happen," said Eyler, Ph.D.

The effects could be widespread not only for wine growers, but in the hospitality and restaurant industries as well.

"We mop the floor every day and that uses water. We use our own dishwasher, we make our drinks. But it is mostly the dishes. Every restaurant in town would be facing the same thing," said Susana Reuter from the GreenGrocer.

It's the same story every business and every person, to a degree.

"Well we thought something was going to have to happen," said Stacey gibbons of Windsor

Gibbons already expects to watch her lawn go brown, her pool drop lower and that fancy new showerhead in her new bathroom may be gone.

With these projected cuts, she says even the goldfish will be in for tougher times.

"Will the fish be alright?" asked Freedman.

Yes, but he will be swimming in dirty water," said Gibbons

Maybe we all will. In what looks like a third year of drought, even bad water looks better than no water at all.