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.
“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/.