By John Ramos

PETALUMA (KPIX) — The drought is severely impacting communities along the Russian River watershed in the North Bay and, on Saturday, Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties joined together to offer tools to save water and spread the message of conservation.

At so-called “Drought Drop-Bys” from Novato to Ukiah, residents could pick up water-saving kits that included tools such as a faucet restrictor, a self-closing hose nozzle, toilet leak-detector tablets and a 1.5 gallon-per-minute shower head.

“If you have an older 2.5 gallon shower head, you’re going to save a gallon every minute,” said Brian Lee, a senior program specialist with Sonoma Water. “So, if you’re taking a 5-minute shower, there’s 5 gallons of savings.”

Keeping showers to 5 minutes gets a bit easier with the timer included in the kit. The drought of 2021 is making everyone more conscious of how they’re using water.

“Yeah, you have to make it more intentional, what you’re doing,” Lee said.

That’s why, included with each kit, was a yard sign warning about the severe drought to give a little encouragement — or perhaps shame — to neighbors not doing their part.

“I’m happy to put this out in my yard because people in my neighborhood are watering off hours when they’re not supposed to,” said one woman as she picked up a sign.

She must not live on South McDowell Boulevard in Petaluma, however. On that street, it is striking how many homes have converted to grass-free yards. Most have some form of xeriscaping or potted plants watered with drip irrigation. But the rock, gravel and mulch landscaping is clearly not new, which means the neighborhood made the switch away from lawns during previous droughts and never went back.

Jane Okamura said her neighbors learned from past experience.

“I think, once you see a reservoir dry up and go into the shock — the PTSD of that — then you learn to save,” she said.

Slowly over the years and without most people noticing, the suburban neighborhood that once featured lawns, changed. Once again, the current drought will probably be another event that shocks people into changing their habits.

“If last year repeats itself again, we’ll be in worse shape than we are now, for sure,” Lee said. “Yeah, it’s very hard to imagine. It’s never happened before.”

Droughts have happened before and they will happen again and, just as in Petaluma, people will adapt to a new normal as the days of plentiful water in California come to an end.