Water conservation

PD Editorial: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

North County leads the way in conservation

Well done to the people of Healdsburg and Cloverdale who love water. Cities in northern Sonoma County rank first and second in the state for conservation, according to figures released last week by the Water Resources Control Board. Healdsburg reduced its water use by 54% in July compared to the same month a year ago. The year-over-year figure for Cloverdale was 37%. Statewide, city dwellers reduced their water use by just 1.8%, well below the 15% demanded by Gov. Gavin Newsom in response to severe drought conditions. Some cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego, used more water in July than a year ago.

For Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Ukiah (who saved 16%) water conservation is a necessity. All three towns rely heavily on the headwaters of the Russian River, which has been reduced to minimum flow levels in an attempt to keep Lake Mendocino from drying up. Agricultural water users have also been ordered to reduce their consumption, but regulators say data from stream gauges shows some people did not take their straw out of the river. It is time for them to share the burden.

A setback for the two-basin water solution

Drought is not the only threat to the upper Russian River. For more than 100 years, water flowed from the Eel River through a kilometer-long tunnel to the Potter Valley Power Plant and into the Russian River. Without the diversion, sections of the river above Dry Creek could dry up during the summer, with devastating effects on ranchers, farmers and residents. PG&E is not renewing its license for the hydroelectric plant, which could result in a permanent reduction in summer flows on the upper Russian River.

To avoid this outcome, the Two-Basin Partnership was formed to take over the Potter Valley project. Partners, including Sonoma Water, the Mendocino County Inland Waters and Electricity Commission and other stakeholders, want to preserve the water supply to users of the Russian River while restoring flows along the 288 miles from eel to salmon and rainbow trout. It could be a win-win – if the time does not pass. PG&E’s license expires next spring, and last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the partnership’s request to extend the May 31 deadline to finalize its buyout proposal. Letting the effort collapse could leave thousands of water users dry. Thumbs Down.

Your ballot is in the mail

Ballots are still counted from the September 14 recall election, so a final turnout figure is still a few weeks away. But it is clear that California voters participated in unusually large numbers in an out-of-year election held on an unknown date. As of Monday, the statewide figure was 57%. In Sonoma County, it was 61.8%. In the last statewide special election, held in 2019, just 28% of voters participated.

A high-stakes partisan contest, lubricated by millions of dollars in campaign spending, helped get people to the polls for this month’s special election. But the convenience of postal voting no doubt helped – just like in November, when the presidential election drew the highest percentage of voters eligible for a statewide election since 1952.

The move to the universal postal ballot was inspired by the coronavirus pandemic, but it will become a permanent feature of the California election. On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law requiring every voter to receive a ballot in the mail for state and local elections. For many voters, this will not be a change. Indeed, more than half of the ballots were cast by mail in every statewide election over the past decade. Now, however, there will be one less excuse not to vote. Thumbs up.

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