Despite flush reservoirs, Sonoma County water officials stress need for conservation

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As California confronts its fourth year of drought and the window for any significant spring rainfall closes, the North Coast has more water in storage than a year ago and is in better position than much of the state to meet its supply needs during the traditionally warm, dry months ahead.

Having endured a near-rainless January and a fourth consecutive winter with below-normal rainfall, local residents can thank several drenching days in December and February for bringing season-to-date rainfall to nearly 24 inches — the most in four years and just 8 inches shy of average for this date.

The total was enough to officially downgrade the drought in most of Sonoma County and all of Mendocino County from “extreme” to “severe,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor federal index and map program. With the Sierra Nevada snowpack at a record low, two-thirds of the state remains in a state of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

That’s not to say, however, that the crisis is over on the North Coast, experts said. The strain on groundwater — the other major local source aside from reservoirs — has managers especially concerned. Pumping, by farmers especially, has outpaced groundwater replenishment from rainfall across much of the state. Sonoma County’s aquifers, while not as heavily tapped as those in the Central Valley, for example, are still under significant pressure. Conservation will continue to be key, water managers said.

“We’re not out of this thing by any stretch of the imagination, that’s for sure,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the Sonoma County Water Agency, wholesale supplier to more than 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties.

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