From May 29, 2020 Press Democrat

Close to Home: For Russian River’s health, conserve water
By Ed Burnett and Don McEnhill

In the past four years, the Russian River watershed has endured catastrophic wildfires, a major flood, extreme drought and record heat. Each of these environmental disasters has taught our community that trying to prepare for an emergency while in the midst of it is next to impossible. You would think preparedness is something we should be getting better at by now.

Instead, we’re about to cut water flows to the Russian River for the second time this year back down to 2015 and 2016 levels, which we all remember harmed our local ecology and economy when harmful algae killed two dogs (“County seeks to reduce river flow,” Wednesday).

This approach is not environmentally sustainable and must be balanced with reducing our overall water use. Water conservation must be our first tool to maximize reservoir storage rather than an option of last resort.

Conservation must be a regular practice for all water users from Ukiah to Jenner, vineyards and all Sonoma Water customers. Every drop of water saved helps preserve the quality of swimmable, fishable and drinkable water – no matter if it’s from Lake Sonoma or Lake Mendocino. Less water diverted means more water stays in the river.

We must change our approach to managing water in droughts if we’re serious about protecting the community’s ability to enjoy the river. As we’ve all learned after spending the past two months at home, we need the outdoors for our physical and mental health.

And as our local businesses begin to open back up, they’ll be depending on a thriving river economy.

This seemingly crazy situation of going from record-setting rains and floods directly into a severe drought is our new normal, and we will continue to experience weather extremes driven by a rapidly warming climate.

We’re not questioning the need to conserve our water storage in Lake Mendocino or the possible need to reduce flows in the future. What we do question is why we’re not pushing for water conservation now when it can make a big difference compared to later this summer.

We urge upper Russian River water users, Sonoma Water and its directors – the Sonoma County supervisors – and the State Water Resources Control Board to be leaders and balance river flow cuts with immediate water conservation measures.

Ed Burdett is board president and Don McEnhill is executive director of Russian Riverkeeper.