Drought - Frequently Asked Questions

As a region we are experiencing a second consecutive dry year, and rainfall and water storage are well below average for this time of year. Sonoma Water and its partners in the Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership (SMSWP) encourage all of our 600,000 drinking water customers to continue to save water (see tips below).

Our region just experienced the third driest water year (October 2019 - September 2020) on record over the last 127 years. We all need to make changes to our everyday habits to eliminate water waste and preserve water supply. Every drop saved helps maintain water flows in the Russian River and extend reservoir storage levels should the current dry period continue.

Do you have a question? Please Contact us 

No answers matched your search

2021 Drought - Frequently Asked questions

Sonoma Water produces water from the Russian River that is pumped from wells about 100 feet below the river bed. This system of pumping is called river bank filtration. Six groundwater wells, also known as collectors, pump the water through natural sands and gravels that act as a filtering system. The system produces high quality drinking water that does not face the water quality concerns that affect many public water systems throughout the United States. Sonoma Water does not provide surface water taken directly from a river or lake to its customers.

For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/water-supply

  • In early 2020, Sonoma Water saved 11,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino (20% of its water capacity at the time) by implementing a deviation request that allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) decision support tools. This was a huge water supply reliability effort and the first of its kind in the nation. The development and implementation of FIRO was a direct result of the last drought we faced in 2013/2014. 

  • In early 2020, due to dry weather conditions, Sonoma Water filed a Temporary Urgency Change Petition to preserve water in Lake Mendocino. This effort is estimated to have saved over 10,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino through the end of 2020. We also implemented a public service announcement campaign alerting our community of the dry weather conditions and the need to use water wisely.

  • In early 2021, Sonoma Water received approval to reduce water releases again from Lake Mendocino through a Temporary Urgency Change Order approved by the State Water Resources Control Board.  Read the press release here. At this point, Sonoma Water is making the minimum release of water from Lake Mendocino; we are currently releasing 25 cubic-feet-per-second at Lake Mendocino.

  • In early 2021, the Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership launched an aggressive public outreach campaign to emphasize the need to save water by highlighting actions customers can take to reduce water use and improve water use efficiency. This is in addition to the Partnership’s year-round conservation campaign efforts. The Partnership’s current regional water use of 107 gallons per capital per day (GPCD) represents a 37 percent reduction in water use, well ahead of the State’s required 20 percent reduction in per capita per day water use by 2020.

    In the near future, as dry weather conditions worsen, Sonoma Water will:

  • File a new Temporary Urgency Change Petition with the State Water Resources Control Board to continue reduction of releases from Lake Mendocino and seek approval to reduce releases from Lake Sonoma. This will also include a reduction in diversions from our Russian River water supply pumping facilities, which will translate to a request by our water contractors to reduce consumer water use. The exact amount of conservation required by a city or water district will depend on that entity’s local water supplies and drought contingency plans.

  • We will continue to coordinate public education efforts through multi-media opportunities, such as radio, print and social media. Educating our residents about current conditions and the need to save water is very important.

2020 – 2021 depending on where you are in the watershed is either the driest two year period, exceeding 1976 through 1977, or for Santa Rosa area slightly wetter than 76/77.  We’re in an historic drought.

Yes, Sonoma Water operates under a water supply permit issued by the State Water Resources Control Board's Division of Drinking Water. This permit requires Sonoma Water to operate and maintain its water supply system in compliance with state water law. This permit includes water quality monitoring requirements and various other conditions and criteria. Sonoma Water consistently meets state and national standards for drinking water quality.

For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/water-quality 

Wholesale water rates are determined by using a calculation outlined under an agreement between Sonoma Water and its water contractors. This document, called the Restructured Agreement for Water Supply (Restructured Agreement), requires Sonoma Water to set rates based on budgeted operations and maintenance costs and past water sales. Water transmission rates are calculated by first identifying the funding necessary to operate, maintain, and improve Sonoma Water’s transmission system and dividing this amount by either the amount of water delivered over the last twelve months or the average annual amount of water delivered over the last three years; whichever is less. The Restructured Agreement also requires Sonoma Water's Board of Director’s to approve wholesale water rates by April 30 of each year.

Sonoma Water has proactively reduced its operations and maintenance costs by 9% over the past 10 years. The proposed rate increase aligns with Sonoma Water's Long Range Financial Plan which plans annual rate increases of 4-6% and allows us to meet our operating and capital needs while minimizing rate spikes. We are able to reduce the impact on our ratepayers by reducing expenditures, reducing power costs, and deferring maintenance projects and other studies wherever possible. The use of grants, fund balance, and bond proceeds helped reduce the rate increase even further.

Wholesale water rates are increasing due to:

  • Funding for capital projects: Projects include natural hazard mitigation and critical fisheries protection projects as well as maintenance projects to ensure a reliable and secure water supply system that delivers clean, affordable drinking water to our community.  It is our goal to secure our future by investing in our water resources and infrastructure. This budget allows Sonoma Water to meet the operations, maintenance, capital, and regulatory demands of the system.
  • Regulatory obligations to secure water supply: Costs of implementing projects required in the coming year by the Russian River Biological Opinion. The Biological Opinion is a 15-year recovery plan to implement the mandates of the National Marine Fisheries Service as they relate to threatened and endangered fish in the Russian River and its tributaries. Funding for implementing these projects will be sought from federal and state agencies, including Sonoma Water's contractors.

For More information visit https://www.sonomawater.org/current-budget 

Every area has its own separate water company. Most of the time the city's public utilities will provide the water service. Other times it will be a water company. To see a list of local water suppliers Click Here.

Beginning in 1960, the North Marin Water District, NMWD (which serves the Novato area) helped pay to construct the Petaluma Aqueduct, which also allowed water to be delivered to Rohnert Park, Cotati, and Petaluma. Through this action, NMWD became a full participant in the Russian River Project, and helped make water delivery more affordable to southern Sonoma County communities.

In 1975, Sonoma Water and Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) entered into an agreement for ‘off peak water supply.’ Through this agreement, Sonoma Water sells water to MMWD during the winter and spring (off-peak periods, when other customers don’t need the water). Through the years this agreement has been modified, and MMWD now gets some summer-time water and has helped pay for the construction of Warm Springs Dam.

Both MMWD and NMWD pay a per-acre foot charge for the water they purchase. In addition, the districts pay an ‘in-lieu’ fee that is equivalent to property taxes paid by Sonoma County taxpayers to Sonoma Water (Russian River Projects charge) and both pay a Russian River Conservation charge.

For more information about our water supply visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/water-supply

No, the volume is staggering.  For example, if you piled all the sediment at the bottom of Lake Mendocino on to one football field it would be almost a mile and half high.  Or, over a million truck loads.  So if you could move 100 trucks per day it would take nearly three years to remove all the sediment.  That’s  assuming Lake Mendocino would be empty for three years. 

​​​​CalFire or other fire protection services will utilize lakes, rivers, agricultural ponds or other sources of water as long as there is an adequate supply to take water from.

​​​​Sonoma Water does not have authority or jurisdiction over land use permits.

Sonoma Water manages and maintains a water transmission system that provides naturally filtered Russian River water to nine cities and special districts that in turn delivers drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties.  You receive your drinking water and water bill from your local city or water district.  We provide drinking water to the following cities and special districts: City of Cotati, Marin Municipal Water District, North Marin Water District, City of Petaluma, City of Rohnert Park, City of Santa Rosa, City of Sonoma, Valley of the Moon Water District, Town of Windsor.

For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/water-supply

Sonoma Water sells recycled wastewater from the following treatment plants: Airport, Graton, Forestville, and Sonoma Valley. Call 707-521-1892 for further information.

The City of Santa Rosa also sells recycled water from their treatment plant. Call the Laguna Treatment Plant at 707-543-3350 for information.

Sonoma Water, through its Water Use Efficiency Program, develops and implements an array of water efficiency programs and rebates. 

For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/wue

In addition, the Water and Energy Education Program at Sonoma Water utilizes a multifaceted approach to help students learn the value of water as an important natural resource. Our programs are FREE and aligned with the Next  Generation Science Standards. We teach inquiry-based, exploratory science. We provide classroom visits, field trips, and curriculum materials for teachers and their students. Our goal is for students to  become environmental stewards and informed citizens who can examine the world through an inquisitive, scientific lens.

For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/education

  • Home water use varies based on the number of occupants, habits, and the efficiency level of water using fixtures installed.
  • Home water use also fluctuates seasonally based on the size and type of irrigated landscape, with outdoor use accounting for approximately 50 percent of annual water use for single-family residences even though most irrigation occurs only during the six months from May through October.
  • Indoor water use can typically be met using no more than 55 gallons per person per day, with more efficient homes using as little as 25-30 gallons per person per day. So for a family of four, indoor use ranges from around 3,000 gallons to 6,700 gallons per month.
  • Water for landscapes during the irrigation season can add another 1,200 (low-water plants) to 4,000 (high-water plants and lawns) gallons per month on average for each 1,000 square feet of irrigated area.

For more information about Water Use Efficiency please visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/wue

The Partnership’s 2020 GPCD is 113 GPCD (Gallons Per Capita Per Day), which represents all water uses for business, residential, industrial, etc.  Statewide average is around 190, but per capita water use varies from place to place depending on each community’s unique mix of land uses, weather, and other variables.  

For more information about regional water use efficiency visit: https://www.savingwaterpartnership.org/about-us/annual-report/

Three Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) formed in Sonoma County as regulatory bodies that can manage groundwater using a variety of tools, including setting fees, requiring water use reporting, regulating how much groundwater is pumped, and monitoring wells.

In 2009, the State Water Resources Control Board established the Recycled Water Policy, requiring local water and wastewater entities to collaborate with stakeholders to develop a Salt and Nutrient Management Plan (SNMP) for each groundwater basin in California. The purpose of the SNMPs is to promote local sustainable water sources and manage salts and nutrients to ensure water quality objectives are met and beneficial uses of groundwater are protected.

For more information visit:  https://www.sonomawater.org/groundwater

Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) is a flexible water management approach that uses data from watershed monitoring and improved weather forecasting to help water managers selectively retain or release water from reservoirs for increased resilience to droughts and floods. FIRO applies emerging science and technology to optimize water resources and adapt to climate change without costly infrastructure.

For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/firo

  • Sonoma Water has no jurisdiction on land use and development permitting/decisions. Sonoma Water manages and maintains a water transmission system that provides naturally filtered Russian River water to nine cities and special districts that in turn delivers drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. We provide drinking water to the following cities and special districts: City of Cotati, Marin Municipal Water District, North Marin Water District, City of Petaluma, City of Rohnert Park, City of Santa Rosa, City of Sonoma, Valley of the Moon Water District, Town of Windsor. For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/water-supply

  • Sonoma Water deliveries have dramatically reduced over the past decade despite an increased population due to the success of our Water Use Efficiency programs. Our customers are being smarter with how they are using water and new developments have been built in recent years with higher-efficiency appliances. As the wholesale water provider, we are selling 32% less water than in the past despite an increase in population/development. For more information visit: https://www.sonomawater.org/wue

  • The cities’ planning departments and Permit Sonoma (for unincorporated areas) are responsible for approving (or not) developments within their boundaries. The cities do work closely with Sonoma Water in drafting their development projections and water shortage contingency plans for the next 25 years every five years through the Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) process sonomawater.org/uwmp – the updated 2020 UWMP is going to the board of directors on May 11, 2021. 

Sonoma Water’s updated UWMP will discuss and describe the following:

  • Existing water supplies and transmission system facilities;
  • Projected water demands in Sonoma Water’s service area over the next 25 years;
  • Projected water supplies available to Sonoma Water over the next 25 years, the reliability of that supply, and general schedules for water supply projects;
  • Climate change impacts to water supply;
  • Energy intensity;
  • Current and planned Sonoma Water water conservation activities;
  • An updated and separately adopted Water Shortage Contingency Plan; and 
  • A comparison of water supply and water demand over the next 25 years under different hydrological assumptions (normal year, single dry year, multiple dry years).

Russian River - Water Quality

Sonoma Water staff have been monitoring water quality conditions during the dry season for many years. Staff are monitoring water quality at Lake Mendocino, the mainstem Russian River, and in the estuary by collecting water samples for analysis and utilizing equipment that continuously records data including flow rates and water temperature.

Staff are collecting water quality data and samples at the following locations:

  • East Fork Russian River at Calpella (upstream of Lake Mendocino)
    • Continuous monitoring of temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
    • Biweekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, and turbidity
  • Lake Mendocino
    • Biweekly vertical profiles for temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, specific conductance, and pH
    • Biweekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, and turbidity at three levels within the water column
    • Monitoring is dependent on access to safe boat launching site at low water surface elevations
  • East Fork Russian River downstream of Coyote Valley Dam
    • Continuous monitoring of temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
    • Biweekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, and turbidity
  • Russian River at Hopland
    • Biweekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, turbidity, and algae
  • Russian River at Pieta Creek
    • Continuous monitoring of temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
  • Russian River at Cloverdale
    • Biweekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, and turbidity
  • Russian River at Jimtown
    • Biweekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, turbidity, and algae
  • Russian River near Syar Vineyards
    • Biweekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, turbidity, and algae
  • Russian River at Johnson’s Beach
    • Continuous monitoring of temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
  • Russian River at Vacation Beach
    • Weekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, turbidity, and bacteria, with additional samples collected during river mouth closure and summer dam removal
  • Russian River at Monte Rio
    • Weekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, turbidity, and bacteria, with additional samples collected during river mouth closure and summer dam removal
  • Russian River at Patterson Point
    • Weekly sampling for nutrients, chlorophyll a, turbidity, and bacteria, with additional samples collected during river mouth closure and summer dam removal
    • Biweekly samples collected for algae
  • Russian River at Brown’s Pool
    • Continuous monitoring of depth, temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
  • Russian River at Freezeout Creek
    • Continuous monitoring of depth, temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
  • Russian River at Patty’s Rock
    • Continuous monitoring of depth, temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
  • Austin Creek
    • Continuous monitoring of depth, temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde
  • Willow Creek
    • Continuous monitoring of depth, temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity using a datasonde

In addition, staff are reporting water quality data (water temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity) collected at the following U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gaging stations (some stations are operated seasonally):

  • Calpella (USGS 11461500)
  • Hopland (USGS 11462500)
  • Cloverdale (USGS 11463200)
  • Jimtown (USGS 11463682)
  • Digger Bend (USGS 11463980)
  • Hacienda (USGS 11467000)

Sonoma Water staff monitor mainstem Russian River algae to gather ecological data for algal populations that are representative of habitats available in the Russian River under a variety of dry season flows. This effort is intended to identify the composition, abundance, cover, and change over time of algae species in the Russian River. It is also conducted to gain a better understanding of how and what ecological conditions influence algae populations in the Russian River. Green and golden brown algae are monitored. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are also monitored.
 
Algae monitoring is conducted biweekly at 4 locations on the Russian River (Hopland, Jimtown, near Syar Vineyards in Healdsburg, and at Patterson Point). The Patterson Point location is within the lagoon that forms when the river mouth closes. Sonoma Water staff share observations of status of algae and cyanobacteria with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to help inform further sampling for public health.
 
The Sonoma County Department of Health Services (DHS) conducts seasonal cyanotoxin sampling at 10 Russian River beaches with recreational activities involving the greatest body contact. Results from the sampling program are reported on the Sonoma County DHS Beach Sampling Hotline and by Sonoma County DHS at their website: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Environmental-Health/Water-Quality/Blue-Green-Algae/ .

Water quality monitoring data will be reported as it becomes available in the Weekly Russian River Hydrologic Status reports on Sonoma Water’s Temporary Urgency webpage.

A 24-7 beach hotline(707- 565-6552) is available for the public to call and receive water quality updates on beaches along the Russian River.  This service is provided by Sonoma County Health Services.

Sonoma Water staff have consulted with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board regarding this year’s water quality monitoring efforts and will be sharing results with Regional Board staff throughout the dry season. In addition, results are shared with other agencies, including the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.