By John Ramos

HEALDSBURG (KPIX) — After suffering a scary drought season in 2021, people in Healdsburg are not taking the availability of water for granted, even with recent storms starting the water year in a promising way.

You can’t blame Healdsburg residents for having a wait-and-see attitude about the condition of the Russian River given the summer they just went through.

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“There was a sense of panic when you realized that your major water source is dwindling every day,” said resident Scott Swall. “It appeared to be getting worse and worse and you could see we weren’t getting any more rain.”

“It was scary. The summer was scary,” said Cathy Brandau. “We didn’t have any water in the river, not even a drop.”

Then in October came the first atmospheric river, turning the Russian itself back into a river again. Resident Nancy Carlson said her neighbors were ecstatic and couldn’t quite believe their good fortune.

“It was like, ‘Is there gonna be more? Is there gonna be more? There will be more, right?'” she said.

With the town’s only water supply, Lake Mendocino, rapidly drying up throughout the summer, Healdsburg was forced to drop its water consumption by 40 percent. Residents actually managed to do even better than that.

Lawns were torn out or allowed to die, people took five-minute showers and installed tanks for recycled water. This winter, the rains are turning grass green again.

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But they came a bit too late for Brent Mortensen, who lost about half the landscaping in his front yard.

“We kept losing bushes and trees. So when the rains came, we were overjoyed!” he said laughing.

But most residents don’t seem to have a lot of faith that the wet weather will continue. Lake Mendocino has slowly begun to refill and is up to about 55 percent of capacity. The city’s Utilities Director Terry Crowley is cautiously happy about that.

“We’ve recovered quite a bit, from a low of around 30, or slightly less than that,” he said. “So [a] big, big improvement. But we still have a long way to go before we hit our winter storage target.”

Crowley said the city has learned a lesson about diversifying its water supply. Planning is underway for a new backup supply: a series of wells drilled down to an aquifer that can be recharged by injecting water underground during times of plenty.

But that project will take years to construct. And after what Healdsburg just went through, the residents seem resigned to the idea that the problem isn’t over for them. Their water conservation efforts must continue.

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“I don’t think anybody who’s lived here any amount of time ever takes their eye off the ball,” said resident Scott Swall. “You’re always aware that it could stop tomorrow. This could be it for us. We could get no more rain the rest of the year. So we better take care of what we’ve got, you know?”