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Paper Water?

Press Democrat Editorial
Jan 9, 2007

Water, water everywhere – and not 35 percent more to drink. This could be the epilogue of Sonoma County’s recently released Urban Water Management Plan which already is attracting its critics for some major assumptions it makes about the future.

The report, in brief, states that the county will have sufficient water supplies for the next 20 years – as long as it is allowed to get 35 percent more from its reservoirs. Anyone who understands water politics in the North Bay knows that this is a big “if.”

To do this, the Water Agency will have to persuade the state Water Resources Control Board that it has done enough in the way of encouraging water conservation, complying with the Endangered Species Act and other measures to justify an increase in its annual water rights from 75,000 to 101,000 acre-feet.

There’s no question that there’s enough water behind Warm Springs and Coyote dams to meet this increase. The question is whether the conditions will exist for the Water Agency to get permission to take it and deliver it to its retail customers in Sonoma and Marin counties by way of the Russian River. The National Marine Fisheries Service has already indicated that water levels in the Russian River are too high for the health of endangered fish. As part of the report, the Water Agency also assumes that there will be no changes to the Potter Valley diversion of water from the Eel River watershed into the Russian River over the next 20 years. This, too, is a political leap of faith.

Some critics are already lining up, saying these assumptions are far fetched. One called it “nothing but paper water.” Maybe so. There are enough uncertainties about the future of water to make projecting the county’s long-term needs next to impossible. No one will argue that the county needs to do more in the way of conservation, encouraging the use of reclaimed water, etc. But even with all of these things in place – along with existing growth controls – some amount of growth will likely occur in the county over the next 20 years, enough to necessitate some increase in water supply. To say otherwise may be the most unrealistic assumption of all.