Last month's surprise announcement by Sonoma County officials that they were abandoning years of planning to increase the supply of water taken from the Russian River would not get high marks for public relations, as city and agency officials as far south as Novato said they were taken unawares.But now that the dust has settled, it's time to take a step back.
In its Sept. 15 unanimous decision to abandon a long-studied, $600 million pipeline project to take more water from Lake Sonoma and the river, the county found itself with a difficult choice.
Over a year ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued its biological opinion requiring the county to spend more than $100 million to preserve endangered steelhead and chinook and coho salmon. It also mandated that the county take less water from the river.
With that order as a backdrop, the county faced a dilemma. It could move ahead with a very expensive 20-year-old plan and ask state officials for an increase in flows. But in doing so, it risked losing the very 75,000 acre feet it is now entitled to.
Or, it could drop the expansion plan and better ensure it would keep the 75,000 acre feet, all the while knowing that conservation and planning resulted in just 55,000 acre feet being used last year.
With new water-saving conservation and building techniques, future development in the seven cities and two water districts Sonoma County serves are certain to require less new supply than in the past. And with new approaches such as storing water for summer use, county officials are committed to having enough supply to meet future needs.
In the aftermath of the county's September surprise, the city of Santa Rosa and North Marin Water District went to court to try to stop the board's decision. An initial request for a restraining order was denied.
Now that the logic of the board's decision is clear, it's time to drop the suit and begin the work of cooperating on new ways to further secure the North Bay's water future.