Petaluma cattle ranchers brace for 'worst drought ever' as rainwater runs dry

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Petaluma cattle ranchers brace for 'worst drought ever'
A Sonoma County cattle ranch struggles as their rainwater reservoir runs dry, bracing for what's expected to be the "worst drought ever."

PETALUMA, Calif. (KGO) -- In the Sonoma County dairy belt known as the Two Rock Valley, people find comfort in seasonal predictability.

Flowers bloom. The cows come home. That's how it's supposed to be, but this is 2021.

"What is the one thing you haven't gotten?" we asked Bonnie DeBernardi.

"Rain, which we need really, really bad," said DeBernardi. "My roses were so beautiful last year. But the cows need it."

RELATED: California Dreaming: Farmers, scientists sustainably getting by with less water

So bad that this year, she has already abandoned her spring garden.

"We're at five inches of rain. Should be 18 or 19 by now," said her husband, Don DeBernardi.

To drive home the point, Don loaded us into his 4-wheel drive pick-up and steered up a hill to see the reservoir pond that fills with rainwater runoff every year. Looking out the window, we almost missed it.

"That pond should be running over right now," said Don.

RELATED: Dry winter could lead to serious drought, reservoir agencies taking steps

When filled, it should have enough water to run this ranch and his hundreds of cows for a year and a half. Now, the bottom of that pond has already begun to crack.

When asked if they have ever seen it empty, Don said, "Never. Never. Never."

Don and Bonnie DeBernardi have ranched this land since 1976. They weathered the major drought that year, and another in the 90's. In 2014, became so parched that he dug a well that came up dry. They have April as dry as this.

"This is probably the worst one, this time," said Don.

RELATED: More than half of CA in 'severe' drought mode, 31% in 'extreme,' including parts of North Bay

Already, he is stockpiling hay, and just paid tens of thousands of dollars for a water delivery truck. All that at a time when Californians are still fixated on COVID-19 and vaccinations.

He suggests that the public doesn't see what's coming.

"We are in a drought year," said Don. "They turn on the faucet and it comes out and they think we've still got a lot of water."

But most of us don't live on a ranch or rely on a pond.'

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