Healdsburg's offer to help grape growers and farmers weather the drought by offering them reclaimed water was welcomed by the agricultural community.
But two weeks after the City Council took action in a special meeting to start making millions of gallons of highly treated wastewater available, the spigot remains turned off.
The reason: Healdsburg still has not obtained permission from state regulators to use the recycled water from its sewer plant for agricultural irrigation, or at construction sites.
“It is a regulatory environment we live in. It is challenging to deal with,” Mayor Jim Wood said. “Agencies agree it's the right thing (to do), but we face a slow process.”
“Knowing the caliber of the water, it shouldn't be an issue,” City Councilman Garry Plass said of the delay in getting approval to use the tertiary treated water that comes out of the city's state-of-the art wastewater plant.
Two weeks ago, the city appeared poised to immediately make the recycled water available for free to haulers, despite not having the blessing of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Reclaimed water has been used for decades in other parts of the state and Sonoma County, including Santa Rosa and Windsor, to irrigate vineyards, pastures and landscaping.
Healdsburg officials said the governor's drought proclamation in January lent new urgency and justification for using the reclaimed water, which meets the state's drinking water standards.
But advice from the city attorney made Healdsburg officials reconsider, including the possibility they could face fines and even criminal charges if they went ahead right away.
“The frustrating thing is we're being advised because we have a permit that's not fully functional we could be held criminally liable if we dispense water,” Plass said.
“The Regional Board certainly has the ability to fine the city if we were to do that,” said Healdsburg City Engineer Brent Salmi. “They could go as far as filing charges against certain individuals.”