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Extreme Drought Hits Hard as New Water Program Debuts in Sebastopol

Mother and daughter wash hands.

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 the BayREN Water Upgrades $ave Program to help residents save water and lower their utility bills. The new program enables Sebastopol 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! “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.

In early May, Governor Newsom expanded the state of emergency drought proclamation to 41 of California’s 58 counties. The action was due to two years of below normal precipitation, extremely dry soils, and historically low reservoirs.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Bay Area drought conditions will persist. Six of the nine Bay Area counties already include areas of exceptional drought, with effects such as widespread water shortages, widespread crop/pasture losses, and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells.

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

Bay Area jurisdictions and water suppliers are declaring drought emergencies and setting voluntary and/or mandatory restrictions on water use.

The Governor and Legislature are finalizing the state budget which will likely include significant funding for drought infrastructure and preparedness.

Water Upgrades $ave is a turnkey program that helps water utilities meet emergency and long-term conservation targets, while also helping customers save money on their utility bills. The new regional program is based on three pilots in the Town of Windsor, City of Hayward, and East Bay Municipal Utilities District, led by BayREN member agency Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority. 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.”