Bay Area storms won't put a dent in our drought

Here's a sobering fact from Sonoma County -- we need 12 inches of rain by May just to reach the water levels of 1977, the worst drought in memory. Right now, that's a benchmark goal

We began in southern Sonoma County, where one might expect rancher Don DeBernardi to rejoice about those growing puddles on his property.

"Yeah, they look great," he said. "We need more of them, though,"

He's the rancher we watched last week; a man so desperate at the time that he tried to dig a well. It looked promising.

"That didn't work out," DeBernardi said. "But it was worth a try, you know."

We saw minimal runoff along the Russian River in Healdsburg on Thursday; just 40 cubic feet flowing per second, when normally it would be in the hundreds of thousands.

How low is that? Right now levels we saw in the 1977 drought, our worst in memory, have become a goal.

"We are shooting for at least that, and hopefully that will help us get through the summer," said Pamela Jeane with the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Meantime, back at DeBernadini's place, it's time to act, not wait. The cowpies are taller than his grass. He's spending $300 a day on hay just to feed those cows. On Friday, all but a few will go to market.

"They have to go, or you're gonna go, one way or another," he said.

Rain helps San Lorenzo River flow in Santa Cruz County

Much needed rain has fallen across the Bay Area, and a much larger storm is on the horizon. No area is more grateful than the small towns that dot the Santa Cruz Mountains where rainfall is the lifeline for both the people and the fish.

About one inch of rain has fallen here in the mountains and a half-inch toward the bottom at Lexington Reservoir. Those numbers still leave a big deficit and plenty of challenges.

In and around Boulder Creek, population 4,900, residents count on the rain for tap water or to replenish the ground water that feeds their wells. Normal rainfall is 30 inches, but the total since October is only four inches, including the one-inch that fell in the past 24 hours.

"This little rain event we had here was enough to bring up the flows in the San Lorenzo River almost doubling the flows," said San Lorenzo Valley Water District Manager Jim Mueller. "Prior to it, flows were almost at, well they were at an all-time low."

The San Lorenzo River watershed is home to Coho salmon, steelhead, and lamprey. The drought has made the river inhospitable. A management program is underway to help restore their habitat.

"The Coho is almost extricated from the San Lorenzo River, although this year is a little different because of the limitations in some of the north coast streams," Mueller said. "It's my understanding they have seen some Coho migrating in because they couldn't get into their home streams."

Retired school teacher Joe Hammer has lived here 48 years.

"It's quite an industry for the valley to have good fishing and a viable stream," Hammer said. "People come down here to fish and the economy is helped by the fishermen, plus it's nice to see beautiful fish swimming up and down the river."

Residents and water officials are still hopeful the storm door remains open and delivers more needed rain in the next two months. The worst case alternative could be rationing.

Downhill, Lexington Reservoir, which is part of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, saw about a half-inch of rain in the past 24 hours. However, the amount of storage has actually fallen from 30 to 29.7 percent of capacity because of the lag time for runoff to fill the reservoir.

Now it's time for the next storm.

"I'm going to get a couple of barrels and put those out tonight so that we can start saving this pineapple express rain," said Boulder Creek resident Chris Clark.

East Bay wastewater program could help during drought

The healthy dose of rain we've seen does not mean that Bay Area water officials are easing up on a call to conserve water.

At the Dublin San Ramon Services District, they treat wastewater to be used for landscaping and other jobs that don't require clean drinking water. In this drought, it's a program they hope to expand.

The view for drivers in San Ramon early Thursday morning was hard rain, wet roads, and frantic windshield wipers.

The rain can make for dangerous driving conditions. But the wet weather is a welcome change for the parched East Bay earth. Still, it's not nearly enough.

"We normally get about 20 inches of rain a year," said Dublin San Ramon Services District Operations Manager Dan Gallagher. "And here at the treatment plant last year and all of the calendar year of 2013, we only got 3.8 inches. So we got, actually here, less water than what the Mojave Desert normally gets."

Water officials can't make it rain, but they can make the most of what they have -- recycled water.

Wherever you see purple hydrants and hookups, it means recycled water.

Right now it's being used for landscaping and contractors can fill their trucks for use at construction sites. But the Dublin San Ramon Services District is looking to expand so the benefits can trickle down to homeowners.

"We've already had some people call and say, 'hey can I come down to the plant and get recycled water so I can irrigate my trees?'" Gallagher said. "Cause they may have to let their grass die, and that's one thing, but nobody wants their trees to die."

That's not going to happen overnight. Right now the district is talking with state agencies, looking into the regulations because they need permission to make that treated wastewater available to the public.

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