By John Ramos

HEALDSBURG (CBS SF) — As an extreme drought strengths its grip on Sonoma County, Healdsburg officials have unveiled tough new restrictions on water use including limiting individuals to 74 gallons a day and ordering sprinklers and drop irrigation system to be shut down immediately.

With no significant rain showers likely for several months, the state of the drought continues to worsen in the county. Lakes Sonoma and Mendocino — vital sources of water — are at their lowest levels ever for this time of year.

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In the North Bay, water agencies in three counties — Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino — banded together Saturday to hold “Drought Drive-Bys,” handing out water-saving kits to residents. In Santa Rosa they’re asking for a 20 percent cut in water usage as they wait to find out how much Russian River water the state will allocate to them.

“As soon as we know for sure what that number’s going to be, we will implement the appropriate stage of our shortage plan,” said Jennifer Burke, director for Santa Rosa Water. She said it’s not a matter of if but when mandatory water conservation will begin.

In Healdsburg, beginning Saturday, outdoor sprinklers and drip irrigation have been banned. The town relies solely on water from Lake Mendocino which is down to 39 percent of capacity and is so low that, in April, the governor used it as a backdrop for his emergency drought press conference. Effective immediately, residents are being rationed to 74 gallons of water per person per day.

“Our end goal is to insure that we have adequate drinking water and are able to flush our toilets come October and November seems to be a good motivation,” said Healdsburg conservation analyst Felicia Smith.

There simply are no backup water supplies for the town so green grass won’t be seen for a long time. Conservation specialist Kris Loomis held up a one-gallon water bucket and pointed out that it takes 25 of them each year to maintain the one-square-foot of grass she stood on. The large lawn at the town’s community center requires about two million gallons of water per year.

“We need to just turn it off and use that water for us to eat, to live, to flush, to shower and save our lawns and our landscapes for later,” Loomis said.

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George Romero got the message and was tearing up his lawn Saturday afternoon. He plans to replace it with some kind of xeriscaping and, across the street, Mustafa Tolosa decided that after the previous drought to let nature take its course.

Tolosa said he simply doesn’t water the lawn anymore. In wet years he has a lawn — in dry years, he doesn’t.

“I mean, we already went solar,” he said, “now we don’t have to worry about water so, yeah, we’re saving a lot of money.”

Healdsburg is first because it has been ordered by the state to cut water use by 40 percent overall. But most water districts that rely on Russian River water are predicting there will be some form of mandatory water rationing coming soon.

Healdsburg is among the first but won’t be the last to issue tough mandatory water restrictions. They include:

  • Residential Customers are assigned a water budget of 74 gallons per person per day.
  • Commercial Customers are required to reduce water usage by 40%.
  • Automated irrigation — sprinklers or drip — is prohibited for all residential, commercial and industrial customers.
  • Hosing driveways, hardscapes areas power washing, and washing personal vehicles are prohibited.
  • Planting new landscaping or grass is prohibited.
  • Hand-watering is allowed so long as it’s within water allowance
  • Use of hoses to clean driveways, hardscape or personal vehicles is prohibited
  • Fines up to $1,000 per day for violations

Water officials were advising customers to purchase a Flume smart metering device. It easily connects to your water meter and wi-fi for real time water use. The city offers a $100 rebate of the purchase price.

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More information on current water restrictions: https://www.ci.healdsburg.ca.us/714/Current-Drought-Information