Petaluma water experts are laying the groundwork for a drought emergency come summertime, but stopped short of calling for residents to begin conservation measures this winter.
In a two-hour City Council workshop on the city's water supply and delivery system, Public Works Director Dan St. John laid out the status quo and explored potential measures the council may want to take to assure a safe and sure water supply for Petaluma's 60,000 residents.
As the driest period in decades continues, officials throughout Sonoma County are beginning an aggressive campaign to encourage residents to watch their water habits before the hot, even drier summer months.
Santa Rosa ended 2013 with just 8.71 inches of rain, according to Press Democrat records, compared to an average annual rainfall of 32.22 inches. According to Sonoma County Water Agency data, last year was the driest in 119 years of record keeping.
Lake Mendocino, a primary source of drinking water for the North Coast that also feeds the Russian River water supply system, is critically low.
Lake Sonoma, which provides water to about 600,000 users in Sonoma County and beyond, has about a year's worth of water left before the Water Agency would need to ration supplies.
Last week, Mendocino County supervisors declared a drought emergency and Willits city leaders plan to impose mandatory water reductions there soon.
St. John said those measures aren't necessary in Petaluma yet. But, he said, Petaluma and its residents need to prepare for tougher conditions that may lie ahead.
“We have to be ready before it becomes an issue,” he said.
Petaluma buys most of its water from the Water Agency, but it also has 10 wells that could provide about 40 percent of local water needs if the county curtails its water deliveries.
The wells haven't been used much recently, he said, and four are out of commission completely. He said at least two could be reactivated soon. Another is being redrilled after a cave-in.
The city is also ramping up its use of recycled wastewater in place of potable water for irrigating parks, schools and recreation fields.
By early spring, St. John said the city may want to promote a 15 percent reduction of water use for residents and businesses.
“If the drought persists, we're going to need 100 percent participation in April and May,” he said. “We don't want to start too early and have burnout.”
Mayor David Glass also encouraged residents to hold off on irrigating their yards now – to save water but also to save on next year's sewer bill. Wastewater bills for the entire year are based on a customer's winter water usage.
“Help us help you by conserving during this time,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.