Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rural Sonoma County residents are about to fall under state mandates to conserve water, largely through cutting back on outdoor irrigation, under an emergency measure aimed at protecting endangered coho salmon.
The water limits, including prohibitions on watering lawns and washing vehicles, initially will apply to the owners of about 3,750 parcels who rely primarily on private wells in the “critical areas” of four watersheds key to young coho salmon. The board has the option to expand the rules to all 13,000 parcels in the watersheds.
Adopted by the state Water Resources Control Board last month, the conservation measures are scheduled to take effect Monday amid concerns that the rules are flawed.
“Too little, too late,” said Grif Okie, whose property straddles Mark West Creek north of Santa Rosa.
The creek is “alarmingly low” and conserving water “is a good idea, of course,” Okie said. But after living on the creek for 15 years and watching vineyard plantings in the watershed, he contends the county, state and federal governments are “all derelict in having any coherent plan for saving the fish.”
State officials have conceded that the two-part order was quickly conceived and enacted in response to an urgent need to boost the flow in Mark West Creek, Green Valley and Dutch Bill creeks in west Sonoma County and Mill Creek west of Healdsburg.
Critics have faulted the conservation plan for exempting irrigation of “agricultural commodities,” including vineyards.
“It’s a good start,” said Larry Hanson of Forestville, who lives near Green Valley Creek and has watched it shrink prior to the beginning of the current four-year drought, a trend he attributes to vineyard expansion. The state order “missed the biggest target” by exempting vineyards, he said.