June 25, 2007
Unlike other counties, Solano not facing water reductions
By Barry Eberling
FAIRFIELD - Solano County residents can use water this summer without taking extraordinary conservation steps and feel no guilt.
That's not true everywhere in California. The Sonoma Water Agency has been ordered by the state to cut water use by 15 percent. Los Angeles and San Francisco are both strongly urging customers to conserve water.
A dry winter will do that. The Sierra Nevada snow pack - the state's major water source - was 71 percent below normal levels. Levels in many of the state's rivers, such as the Russian, have been low.
Solano County is in better shape than many areas. Local officials don't want residents to waste water but are not asking people to forgo showers or skimp on watering the lawn.
"None of the cities are in a situation where they even have to ask for voluntary reductions," Solano County Water Agency Manager David Okita said.
Residents might give thanks by filling a glass full of water and toasting the Lake Berryessa reservoir.
Lake Berryessa is Solano County's ace-in-the-hole. The reservoir, which is 87 percent full, is able to withstand several dry years in a row. Virtually all of its water goes to the county's farms and cities.
"Generally, a single year is nothing to worry about," Okita said.
The 23-mile-long reservoir depends on rainfall in the coastal mountains, not a snow pack. Because of its size, water levels are slow to drop. Although the lake got only half its normal 24 inches of rain last winter, it still can easily supply local cities and farms.
SCWA considers the area in drought conditions when Lake Berryessa reaches 50 percent capacity. That last happened in 1994.
Fairfield Assistant Public Works Director Rick Wood said the city has spent a lot of money for reliable sources of water. The payback for ratepayers is they don't face mandatory conservation, he said.
"We emphasize conservation as a way of life at all times," Wood said. "But there's no reason for exceptional efforts for conservation in Fairfield."
The reliable water source is one of the items Fairfield uses to attract businesses, he said.
Fairfield gets about 60 percent of its water from Lake Berryessa and 40 percent from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Vallejo, Suisun City and Vacaville also use Lake Berryessa water.
The reservoir formed after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built Monticello Dam 50 years ago. Solano County leaders had lobbied the federal government for almost two decades to build the dam.
Dixon and Rio Vista do not get Lake Berryessa water, relying instead on well water. Yet, these cities also do not face a water crisis.
The Solano Irrigation District helps provide water to Dixon. Water in the wells remains at decent levels, SID General Manager Suzanne Butterfield said.
"One dry winter does not a drought make," she said.
If next winter is just as dry, it would be prudent to start requiring reasonable water conservation efforts in Dixon, she said.
But for now, Solano County residents can go about their usual lives without giving water supplies a second thought.
Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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