Running out of water, drought-stricken communities find creative ways to conserve

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Posted at 12:55 PM, Aug 30, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. — As unprecedented drought conditions plague much of the West, reservoirs are running dry. Communities reliant on these sources for drinking water are tightening restrictions to preserve adequate supplies.

“This is the first time it’s been this severe," said Tom Colbert of Healdsburg, California. "It’s disheartening. We’ve had friends move out of California because of the drought and the wildfires.”

Located in California's Wine Country, the city implemented water restrictions in June to maintain its drinking water supply through 2021.

The mandate cut water use by 40 percent, limiting individuals to 74 gallons a day. It also banned the use of sprinklers and drip irrigation.

“One of the things that’s made this community very special is the vegetation: the trees, the grasses, the bushes. We want to keep them alive. We don’t want to run the risk of having them dry," said Colbert.

The neighborhood has been bringing in recycled water to preserve the landscaping. Colbert is among a dedicated group of volunteers distributing the supply each week.

“Some, like the Redwoods, require 1,000 gallons of water a week," said Colbert.

A free resource offered by the city, residents are responsible for sourcing or purchasing their own storage tanks, totes, or barrels.

“The City of Healdsburg is currently achieving a 55% reduction in water use and has been doing so for nearly two months,” said Healdsburg Mayor Evelyn Mitchell. “The City adopted high levels of conservation early in the summer because we knew storage in Lake Mendocino was an issue. We are hopeful the entire watershed will band together to achieve significant conservation as the timing of this year’s rain is uncertain.”

But in recent days, water levels dropped below 20,000 acre-feet of storage, falling short of a water conservation goal established to maintain adequate downstream flows for fisheries and human health and safety needs for municipal users.

"We don’t know what’s going to happen," said Colbert.

The ongoing climate threat is leading to creative conservation throughout the state.

“The heat has gotten intense. Intense, intense, especially this summer," said Rebecca Taylor, stylist and owner of Honey Hair Lab in Rancho Cucamonga. "And it never rains. I don’t remember the last time it truly properly rained.”

When she moved from Florida to California, Taylor became hyperaware of how precious each drop of water was. From rinsing hair to washing towels, salons use hundreds of gallons of water each week.

Adapting to the changing climate, she now uses single-use, biodegradable towels. Sustainably sourced, she says EasyDry towels are super absorbent and more practical. Fully biodegradable, the towels return to nature within 12 weeks.

“I don’t have to do laundry; I don’t have to use water," said Taylor. "I know I can make little things different in my routine. It’s worth a try, right?”