Megadrought Solutions in Sonoma County

Despite a significant rainstorm in late 2021, the drought situation facing the American West is being classified as a “megadrought” and exhibits the driest conditions in at least 1,200 years, according to a new study published in Nature of Climate Change. [1]  Human-caused climate change is a key factor causing the dry conditions, which threaten to worsen going forward.

The impacts of this continuing megadrought on the North Bay will be low reservoirs, water shortages, increased extreme heat events, and wildfire threats due to dry vegetation.
Researchers have known that before human industry, yearly water levels varied. That variability, however, has been intensified by the climate crisis. “According to their findings, soil moisture deficits doubled in the last 22 years compared with levels in the 1900s. Human-caused warming accounted for a 42 percent increase in severity,” reports The Guardian in a recent article. [2] The new research is considered by many to be a call-to-arms to protect water supplies through water efficiency.

Rather than accepting a warming future with less rainfall, Sonoma County residents have tools and tactics available to reduce their own water use, to ensure existing water supplies are used efficiently.

BayREN’s Water Upgrades Save program helps Sonoma County residents install water and energy-efficient upgrades — like high-efficiency toilets, showerheads, and aerators. Not only do these upgrades save water, they also lower water utility bills for renters and homeowners. This program is currently available in the City of Sebastopol, and soon in the City of Cloverdale. To learn more, visit:

The Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership also offers a range of water efficiency resources to assist residents and businesses, including its Saving Water Challenge, which features 31 water-saving tips and a drawing for prizes such as a high-efficiency clothes washer and Smart Home Water Monitor. To learn more, visit:

Saving Water Challenge Tips from the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership


  • Adjust your lawn mower to the height of 1.5 to 2 inches.  Taller grass shades roots and holds soil moisture better than short grass.
  • Check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust sprinklers so only your plants are being watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.
  • Redirect downspouts to the landscape to allow rainwater to be absorbed into the ground instead of going into the street.
  • Leave lawn clippings on your grass; this cools the ground and holds in moisture.
  • Wash your pets outdoors, in an area of your lawn that needs water.
  • Use porous material for walkways and patios to prevent wasteful runoff and keep your water in your yard.
  • Use a commercial car wash that recycles water.  Or, wash your car on the lawn, and you’ll water your grass at the same time.


  • When replanting your front or backyard, consider low-water plants to reduce water use.
  • Hold off on new plantings until the drought is over.
  • Water your plants deeply but less frequently to encourage deep root growth and drought tolerance.
  • Signs of overwatering: Leaves turn lighter shades of green or yellow, young shoots wilt, and sometimes moss or fungi grow.
  • Spreading a layer of organic mulch around plants helps retain soil moisture, saving water, time & money.
  • Set a timer when using the hose as a reminder to turn it off.  A running hose can waste up to 10 gallons per minute.


  • When running a bath, plug the bathtub before turning on the water.  Adjust the temperature as the tub fills.
  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run.  Fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  • While you wait for hot water, collect the running water and use it to water plants.
  • Use water for up to 5 minutes while taking a shower.  Turn off the water when you are lathering soap.
  • If your toilet was installed before 1992, installing a new WaterSense® labeled toilet will reduce the amount of water used for each flush by 20% or more.
  • When you give your pet fresh water, don’t throw the old water down the drain.  Use it to water your plants.
  • For hot water and energy savings, insulate hot water pipes.


  • Collect the water you use while rinsing fruit and vegetables.  Reuse it to water plants or to flush your toilet.
  • Don’t use running water to thaw food.  For water efficiency and food safety. Defrost food in the refrigerator.
  • Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrub them clean.
  • Dishwashers use 4 to 7 gallons per load.  Washing by hand uses 1.5 to 2.5 gallons per minute of running water.
  • Scrape food scraps and residue into the compost bin rather than rinsing your dishes.
  • Instead of running the water while you wait for it to get cold, keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator.


  • One drip every second adds up to five gallons per day!  Check your faucets and showerheads for leaks.
  • Put food coloring in your toilet tank.  If it seeps into the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak.  Fix it and start saving gallons.
  • Be a leak detective!  Check all hoses connectors and faucets regularly for leaks.
  • Monitor your water bill for unusually high use.  Your bill is a tool that can help you discover leaks.
  • Report broken pipes, leaky hydrants and errant sprinklers to property owners or your local water provider.


[1] Williams, A.P., Cook, B.I. & Smerdon, J.E. Rapid intensification of the emerging southwestern North American megadrought in 2020–2021. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2022).

Extreme Drought Hits Hard as New Water Program Debuts in Sebastopol

As California enters a third year of drought, Bay Area communities are mobilizing to reduce water use.

In the City of Sebastopol that includes joining to help its residents save water and lower their utility bills.

“Sebastopol had the foresight to be the first Bay Area city to enroll in this program, before the drought was declared,” said Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney, noting the City’s January 2021 decision, which enables its water customers to install water efficiency upgrades with little-to-no upfront cost using an on-bill charge that is significantly lower than the estimated savings — so they begin saving right away.

In early May, as Sebastopol launched its Water Upgrades $ave service, Governor Newsom expanded his state of emergency drought proclamation to 41 of the state’s 58 counties. The action came as two years of below normal precipitation, super dry soils, and historically low reservoirs threaten local water supplies.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Bay Area drought conditions will persist at least through August 31 and six of nine Bay Area counties include areas of exceptional drought, with effects such as widespread water shortages or restrictions, exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses, and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies.

The drought is already being felt in the North Bay agricultural industry where grape growers are pruning vines to reduce water need, dairies are selling stock and importing water for remaining animals, and farmers are focusing on crops that need less water, according to The Press Democrat.

In response, Bay Area jurisdictions and water suppliers are declaring drought emergencies and setting voluntary, and in some cases mandatory, 10 to 20 percent water use restrictions as well as expanding water conservation programs.

These efforts will soon get help from a $5.1 billion drought infrastructure, preparedness, and response campaign included in Governor Newsom’s California Comeback Plan, which is expected to be adopted by the State legislature in June.

Even as drought pressures grow, Water Upgrades $ave can help water utilities meet emergency and long-term conservation targets by investing in indoor and outdoor customer-side upgrades using a turnkey service that provides utility capital and installs upgrades for participating customers, who use a portion of their savings to repay the project cost over time with the on-bill charge.

The new regional program is based on three pilots in the Town of Windsor, City of Hayward, and East Bay Municipal Utilities District, which were conducted by the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority, which serves as Water Upgrades $ave program manager. Serving both homeowners and renters, the pilots delivered an annual average utility bill savings of 20 percent for single family and 30 percent for multifamily projects.

Commenting on the City of Sebastopol’s interest in the program, Vice Mayor Gurney said that while “the Water Upgrades $ave program will benefit local governments by buffering the impact of our rate increase, it will also help our local citizens by giving them an affordable tool to lower their water and energy use.”