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Cool weather, weak economy boost water savings

By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Water use by Sonoma County homes and businesses remains 20 percent below what it was two years ago, the result of continued conservation, another cool summer and a weak economy.

Sonoma County Water Agency Public Information Officer Ann DuBay uses a giant map of the Russian River watershed to show Jonah Wurtzel, 3, of Santa Rosa the source of the water from the tap. (John Burgess / PD)

“There is a correlation between weather and water demand,” said Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency. “But the peak demand has dropped every year since 2006, and we think that is conservation.”

The Water Agency this summer is providing 50 million to 55 million gallons per day to the cities and water districts it serves, compared to an average of 70 million to 75 million gallons per day two years ago.

“Several years ago we had demands that reached as high at 80 million gallons per day,” said Pam Jeane, the Water Agency’s assistant general manager of operations. “Four or five years ago, there began a concerted effort on conservation, which I think is the biggest difference.”

The peak demand this summer was 60 million gallons on July 4, the day after the temperature was measured at 105 degrees at the Water Agency’s Airport Boulevard offices.

In Santa Rosa, total use so far this year is 3 billion gallons, a fraction above the amount at this point last year and 20 percent less than two years ago, said Glen Wright, the city’s deputy director of water resources.

Because conservation can be credited with only a 1 to 2 percent drop in consumption per year, the economy may play a bigger role in the decrease, Wright said.

Utility workers used to put in 40 new water meters a week, but now are often putting in fewer than 10.

“There is very little new demand and the existing demand is reduced because of vacancies,” Wright said.

Water use in Santa Rosa has declined every year since 2005-2006, from 7.2 billion gallons to 5.7 billion gallons in 2009-10.
Rohnert Park also expects to see the impact of a weak economy, particularly with the closure of the State Farm Insurance offices Aug. 1. The company had 450 employees.

“Those employees are not flushing, they are not washing their hands,” said Darrin Jenkins, Rohnert Park’s city engineer. “Less employees and less water use.”

Since January, Rohnert Park customers have used 799 million gallons, compared to 784 million gallons last year and 858 million gallons for the same period in 2009.

When sales drop, water rates often are increased to cover the Water Agency’s fixed costs and any additional costs of meeting federal requirements to protect threatened and endangered fish in the Russian River.

Last year, reduced water use and federal regulations resulted in a 5 percent wholesale water-rate increase for most North Bay cities and districts the agency serves.

This year’s use is fairly consistent with last year, and it is too early to tell what sales and costs will end up being, Jeane said.

The Water Agency serves 600,000 residents in Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and Sonoma, and the Valley of the Moon, Marin Municipal and North Marin water districts.

“If there is a large change in water use, the way the calculation works there would be a rate increase,” Jeane said. “If the most recent 12 months is not a lot different than the previous 12 months, there would not be a big change.”

Agency puts $165,000 into water promotion

When people turn on the tap, the Sonoma County Water Agency wants them to know where that water comes from and that it’s good enough to drink.

“It is the best product on the market,” said agency spokesman Brad Sherwood.

That message is balanced with the need to conserve. Like all water agencies in California, the Sonoma County Water Agency is under an order by the state to cut per capita use by 20 percent by 2020.

The Water Agency has a public outreach program that costs $165,000 a year for promotions, advertising and brochures.

At the Sonoma County Fair, an oversized map of the Russian River watershed dominates the Water Agency’s booth, with information on where and how water is taken out of the river.

“A lot of people don’t realize our water is naturally filtered through 100 feet of sand and gravel,” Sherwood said. “It is a rare system. Other than adding chlorine, the water is extremely clean and we don’t have to add a lot of chemicals.”

To promote conservation, the Water Agency is giving out kitchen faucet aerators that set flow at two gallons per minute and a deck of cards showing different drought-tolerant and low-water-use plants, along with reusable shopping bags and poster-sized maps.

It also has scheduled Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 tours of its pumping facilities at Wohler Bridge and at Mirabel, where there also is a rubber dam raised during the summer to create a pool and filtration ponds.

Registration is online at www.scwa.ca.gov/tours/.





7 Responses to “Cool weather, weak economy boost water savings”

  1. Money Grubber says:

    “Last month, only 58.1% of Americans were employed for ages 16 and over.

    That’s a significant drop from before the recession, which began in December 2007 and lasted 18 months, and the lowest employment percentage since 1983.”

    CNNMoney article from two days ago.

    Roughly half of Americans are not employed.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Dan Delgado says:

    We have a well and I can only wish water cost us $20/mo. A new pump two years ago was about $1,600, a new air tank last year was another $500 and check valve replacements this year yet another $450. And that doesn’t begin to account for the electricity usage to run it. Nor does it account for drilling or installation which can easily run $20,000 or more depending on soil conditions and depth. Yeah, $20/mo…I wish.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  3. Jackson C. says:

    Yes, indeed. A weak economy that is in the process of getting worse. That is what was stated by the founder of Home Depot (among other top business leaders) who was on TV last night.

    Top finance experts now give chances of another severe recession, worse than the first, as being at least 33%.

    Banks in Europe are on the verge of collaspe without more bail out funds and, we didn’t know this, but American dollars are predicted to be used. Yep.

    Pay off your debt, people. We’re on another down slide.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. allen says:

    It’s great to conserve. To bad the water co. seems to think it’s great to keep raising the water rate to make up for the drop in usage. Maybe they should start to CONSERVE TOO.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  5. Steveguy says:

    Poor city folk that pay outrageous amounts for water now.

    To Grow a decent garden there goes $300 minimum.

    Those of us on a rural well pay about $20 for the same.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. Dawn says:

    When are we getting a water rate reduction because of all of our good efforts at conservation?

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  7. Joseph says:

    I always find it strange the water uptakes are down stream from the sewer discharge.
    Maybe Los Angelos, :just recycle the sewage instead of sending it up to the Power Plants. Maybe not an option now; but one we should be thing about.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

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