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Petaluma joins call for water conservation

Petaluma is joining several other cities in Sonoma County by adopting a goal to voluntarily reduce citywide water use by 20 percent.

Despite some welcome rains locally, the regional drought continues. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of drought-relief efforts Saturday, which includes $1 million toward a public awareness campaign to inform residents how to better conserve water.

Sonoma County also has been promoting its regional water-saving program. In January, Petaluma Public Works Director Dan St. John updated the council on the city’s water supply system, including its ground water wells, which are generally for emergency use.

Petaluma buys most of its water from the Sonoma County Water Agency, but it also has 10 wells that could provide about 40 percent of local water needs if the county curtailed its water deliveries in a prolonged drought.

He said at the time the city was meeting its usage goals and shouldn’t begin urging residents to cut back yet.

But after the governor’s drought declaration and a continued sense of urgency about local water supplies, St. John said Monday that Petaluma will begin to pursue the 20 percent conservation goal. Several other cities have done the same, including Santa Rosa, Windsor and Cotati.

Should the drought situation worsen, mandatory saving measures could kick in, as well as higher rates for heavy users, he said.

For now, he said Petaluma residents are being asked not to irrigate landscaping.

“We’re basically asking people very sternly to voluntarily not do any irrigating outside,” he said. “That is where the biggest bang for the buck is with water conservation.”

Still, St. John cautioned that authorities shouldn’t force the conservation message too quickly and too strongly.

“We are concerned about burnout,” he said. “If we go mandatory too soon, then what’s going to happen come May, June, July with our customers? Are they going to be completely burned out?”

Mayor David Glass said he has heard concerns from residents who have made conservation a habit. “They’re concerned that because they’ve done the right thing ... through conscientiousness at home, that there’s very little cushion for them to cut back,” he said. “They’re starting to consume — to drive their usage up — so they can get back down under the 20 percent.”

Glass cautioned that the 20 percent goal is citywide, not per customer.

St. John said the city will revisit water savings plan in spring.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

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