Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“If we’re not addressing agriculture, do we really think we can keep water in the streams?” asked Don McEnhill, executive director of Russian Riverkeeper, a conservation group founded in 1993.
Sweeping state action to protect imperiled salmon in dwindling local streams and limit water use by thousands of rural Sonoma County landowners has come under fire from two sides, including farmers who say the move is heavy handed and from a river advocate who says the proposed rules should not exempt farms.
The emergency regulation, scheduled for consideration by state water regulators Wednesday in Sacramento, would apply to about 13,000 landowners in about 130-square miles of ground across four watersheds: Dutch Bill and Green Valley creeks in the west county, Mark West Creek north of Santa Rosa and Mill Creek west of Healdsburg.
If the measure is approved by regulators, residents and businesses, including wineries, would be prohibited from using water drawn from the creeks or nearby wells for sprinkling lawns or washing cars. Only gray water — from bathtubs, showers and washing machines — or captured rainwater could be used for such purposes.
The action would also require landowners to provide — on request by state officials — details of their use of stream and well water, a dramatic step in a state where unlimited pumping of groundwater has historically been deemed an inherent property right.
Farmers see that requirement as burdensome and of questionable value.