Report on the September 24th meeting

The Windsor Democratic Club took a break from politics at the September 24 meeting. Instead the club heard from Ryan Pedrotti, the Water Education Programs Specialist of the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA). Pedrotti filled the group in on the state of the water supplied by SCWA to more than 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin Counties during the present severe drought.

The water agency was created in 1949 by the California legislature as a legal entity separate from Sonoma County, with an independent budget and revenue source. The agency sells water to cities and towns in Sonoma and Marin and maintains pipelines, built in the 1950’s and 1960’s, to convey the water from its six wells to its customers. In addition to water supply, the agency purifies the wastewater from several communities. Flood control is the third function of the agency.

The Russian River is the agency’s primary water source, feeding the shallow aquifer where the agency has its wells. The river system features two reservoirs, Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma, which have the dual function of water storage and flood control, depending on supply conditions. Currently, Lake Mendocino’s water capacity is at only 34%, while the much larger Lake Sonoma stands at 74% of capacity. Pedrotti mentioned that SCWA is trying to get the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the two reservoirs, to use Forecast Informed Reservoir Operation (FIRO), which bases reservoir release on weather forecasting, rather than just use abstract formulas.

According to Pedrotti, agency customers have done a great job of reducing consumption in response to the drought, now using 128 gallons per day per household, while statewide usage is between 160 and 170 gallons per day. Australian households average 55 gallons per day, so more progress can be made with increased care and awareness of how our water is used. He stressed that the further reduction of outdoor usage, as well as the conversion to water saving appliances, is needed to meet the challenges of continued drought conditions.

In closing, Pedrotti touched on this season’s much anticipated El Nino. He noted that the effects of an El Nino are mixed in Northern California: in some years there are rainfalls well above average, while below-averages amounts are just as statistically likely.

— Barry Hirsch

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