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.”