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County Administrator's Office

For Immediate Release

Board of Supervisors ends drought emergency, urges public to continue water-saving habits

SANTA ROSA, CA | April 18, 2023

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to end the local drought emergency it declared two years ago. But county leaders strongly encouraged the public to continue conserving water, with the region’s weather patterns becoming increasingly volatile as a result of climate change.

Following a series of wet winter storms that dropped nearly 3 feet of rain on Santa Rosa in three months, the two main reservoirs that supply Sonoma County exceeded their normal storage capacity this year for the first time since 2019. Combined, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino held 372,000 acre-feet of water when winter ended March 20, the most ever going into the dry season. An acre-foot is equal to approximately 326,000 gallons, or enough to meet the annual indoor and outdoor needs of three average households in Sonoma County.

“We’ve made it through the driest three-year period ever recorded in California,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “But this is no time to go back to old habits. We don’t know when the next drought will arrive. If everyone does their part to conserve now, we will have more water available in the future for the entire community to share.”

The Board of Supervisors declared a local drought emergency on April 27, 2021. The proclamation enabled the county to apply for emergency grants and accelerate work on an array of initiatives to protect public health, property and the environment by increasing conservation and securing new supplies of water.

In response to appeals for conservation, local residents and businesses reduced water use by 17 percent in Sonoma and Marin counties in 2021 and 2022, compared to 2020 levels, saving 9.2 billion gallons of water over the two-year period. Overall the local conservation efforts exceeded the statewide 15 percent reduction target set by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021.

Local residents and businesses replaced 1 million square feet of grass with low-water use landscaping, added 95,000 gallons of rainwater harvesting capacity and replaced 1,200 toilets with high-efficiency models utilizing incentive programs promoted by the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership, created in 2010 by Sonoma Water and a dozen water utilities in the two counties it serves.

Other drought response measures included:

  • Sonoma Water collaborated with the S. Army Corps of Engineers to increase the storage capacity of Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino over winter. The initiative, known as Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations, reduced water releases from the two reservoirs by using advanced weather forecasts to predict the timing and intensity of winter storms. As a result, the region is heading into summer with an additional 30,000 acre-feet of water in storage – enough to supply around 90,000 households for a year.
  • The Board of Supervisors allocated $400,000 to revive three dormant wells on the Santa Rosa Sonoma Water activated the first well in October 2021, producing up to 1.6 million gallons per day and providing an alternative source for residents and ranchers in areas experiencing severe water shortages. The water agency won a $6.9 million state grant to activate the two remaining wells and retrofit all three wells to pump water back into the aquifer during wet years, creating new storage underground for future droughts.
  • The Department of Emergency Management and Sonoma Water created a regional task force to share information and coordinate drought response efforts by more than 40 local, state, regional and tribal partners. The Sonoma County Interagency Drought Taskforce worked closely to build contingency plans in case the drought worsened. These planning efforts will continue with the members for future events.
  • The Board of Supervisors, which also serves as the Board of Directors for Sonoma Water, authorized $1.1 million to create a drought response and flood control plan in July The initiative, led by the water agency and the Department of Emergency Management, is developing a comprehensive plan to respond to extreme weather events in the future.
  • Sonoma Water staff met biweekly with staff from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to monitor the impact of the drought on Russian River fish, habitat and water quality.

“Another drought is inevitable. The only question is when it will occur,” said Jeff DuVall, interim director of the county Department of Emergency Management. “That is why the Interagency Drought Taskforce will continue its work planning for the future and advocating for solutions that will strengthen the county’s ability to survive the next drought.”

In urging the public to continue using water wisely, county leaders noted that only four months ago, the county’s largest reservoir, Lake Sonoma, had dropped to its lowest level since it was filled with water in 1984.

“Rainfall is becoming more unpredictable in California, one of the many effects of climate change,” said Grant Davis, general manager of Sonoma Water, which provides drinking water to 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties. “Increasingly, water management throughout California is going to require the ability to respond to extreme weather that results in drought and flooding – and sometimes both in the same year. While our reservoirs are full today, another drought could be around the corner. It’s important to continue using water efficiently.”

Media Contacts:

County of Sonoma 
Ted Appel, Communications Specialist

(707) 565-3040

Sonoma Water 
Andrea Rodriguez, Communications Manager
(707) 331-2040