Protecting Our Water Resources

These last few years of drought conditions have reminded us that water availability is the preeminent resource upon which we build our community vitality and sustainability.

We need to build forward-looking water plans for our communities, jointly with County and City leaders that ensure water reliability for our people, our natural ecosystem, our agriculture, and our businesses – not just for next year, but for the next 50 years.

The 4th District is home to the primary water artery for Sonoma County – the Russian River.  Two major flood control and drinking water reservoirs reside in our district and provide drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties.  The Russian River, where a majority of CA FEMA requests originate, meanders its way through our district. Not to mention countless tourists come to visit its beauty for swimming, canoeing and fishing.  An endangered species of fish, the coho salmon, and the threatened steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, call our district home within the Russian River.

We have a unique and fragile water source that is ours to protect.  We have to protect this priceless environment and resource to secure our future.  We can protect it by actively engaging in innovative water resource practices.

As your Supervisor, I would invest heavily in the following activities:

Improve Operation Of Russian River System

Did you know that the amount of water that goes into Lake Pillsbury, located in Lake County, controls the management of the Russian River water supply system? This is yet another outdated water management system that must be updated. We shouldn’t rely on Lake Pillsbury water levels to dictate how water releases are made out of Lake Mendocino. Lake Mendocino water supply levels should dictate how that reservoir is managed and the Russian River. This is just another example of outdated water supply systems that must be brought into the 21st century.

  • The Russian River water supply system, which includes water released from Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, provides drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties.
  • Our water supply system is unique; the Water Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers co-manage the reservoirs and we all have the responsibility to conserve that water and protect its water quality by taking care of our environment.
  • We must invest in innovative initiatives to secure this water supply system
  • That means updating a 50 year old manual used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to better manage Lake Mendocino’s precious water supply.
    • Approximately 25,000 acre-feet of water was unnecessarily released from Lake Mendocino and sent to the ocean in 2012 because of this outdated manual; this is water we could have used in 2013 – the driest year on record.
    • Half of the rain we receive comes from an atmospheric river.  Of that, a vast majority of our flooding on the Russian River occurs due to an atmospheric river; and all of our droughts are due to no atmospheric rivers…Investing in better atmospheric river forecasting and technology through NOAA and NWS will help provide the data necessary for the Corps to update its reservoir management manual and secure future water supplies for all upper Russian River communities that need it most; not to mention the fisheries that rely on that water for in stream flows in the upper Russian River.
  • Public-private partnerships are key to making many of these initiatives possible within the Russian River watershed; including the work being done in the Dry Creek Valley to implement the Russian River Biological Opinion; a 15-year plan to enhance habitat for endangered fish species while securing current water supplies.  For the most part, Dry Creek winds its way through private properties.


Conservation is our new water supply Gone are the days of building huge reservoirs in California.  The water supply system we have today is the system our grandkids will rely on for their drinking water.  That is why we must invest and dedicate ourselves to develop and implement innovative water conservation programs. We should all agree that our culture of water use, both from the individual and institutional standpoint, must be improved upon.  I have worked most of my career on conservation initiatives around the nation and world – primarily focused on water quality and quantity – and there are great gains to be made in supporting and incentivizing the wise use and management of our most basic and essential resource in all aspects of our lives: at home; at work; and on the farm.

Home: Not all of our communities have the same opportunities to take advantage of water conservation programs; each community offers a different program to its ratepayers and sometimes a community can’t afford to offer water conservation incentives to its community.  That is why we must work to attract and generate funding from sources such as the North Coast Integrated Regional Water Management Program and other funding programs to ensure every 4th District resident can participate in a water saving program;

  • Whether it’s the high-efficiency retrofits to toilets, faucets, and appliances.
  • Through streamlining permitting and incentives for the installation of gray water systems to recycle and reuse our water before it hits our septic tanks or sewers.
  • By converting water wasting amenities on our properties (lawns and non-native plants) to native, low water use options.

Farm: Incentivizing high-efficiency irrigation and frost control conservation measures.  During my time as the Assistant Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, we built a successful program that helped hundreds of grape growers convert their frost control operations from water to wind machines, saving huge quantities of water during early spring.  Additionally, we need to be working with landowners to expand conservation programs that encourage the use of high efficiency irrigation, such as micro-sprinklers and soil probes that allow for data-driven integrated water management (IWM).

Business: Businesses play a large and important role in helping conserve water.  Ensuring businesses have the tools they need to implement water saving programs is critical and is why programs like the Sonoma County Green Business Program are important to make available to all business programs.  Other programs include: Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers; educating our landscapers how to best save water while ensuring their customer’s yard is maintained and beautiful.


Recycled water is drought proof.  All of our water is recycled; it’s been around since before the dinosaurs.  The only difference is that today we have the technology to clean it to its purest state for reuse in our urban landscapes, agriculture and for habitat enhancements.  Recycled water is a priceless commodity that should be made available through every wastewater treatment plant.  We must ensure treatment of this water to produce high quality recycled water that is readily available to every community.  This can happen through collaborative partnerships with our sanitation districts, state water quality partners, and private and public landowners and agriculture. Our water treatment investments have come a long way.  See the example of Santa Rosa wastewater being used to generate power and reduce waste in The Geysers.  However, we must enhance our efforts to gain every drop of value out of every single drop of water, and invest in treatments for land applications and potable water use.

Increasing Recharge/Replenishment, and improving water storage.

All around the country, I have worked to implement projects that encourage the recharge of groundwater basins and aquifers.  As the rain falls on Sonoma County and our Northern neighbors, we see our rivers and streams fill up with fast moving water that oftentimes creates flood damage.  As good stewards of our land, we must invest in good water management practices such as the “Slow it, Spread it, Sink it” manual developed by the Sonoma Resource Conservation District…better yet, we must take those practices and put them into use; let’s get our hands dirty and prevent flood damage by letting mother nature do its natural job of collecting the runoff and storing it in the ground – it’s good for the environment and good for securing our future water supply. That slow it, spread it, sink it….down that fast moving water and encourage infiltration through soils and down into our groundwater supplies.  In many areas of the country, this has been achieved through investing in floodplain easements that allow the river room to flood in non-dangerous areas that support fish and wildlife, and provide areas for natural infiltration.

Groundwater banking

Each winter (unless we are in a drought) our local waterways, including the Russian River, fill to capacity due to our high average rainfall; this means our reservoirs get filled up, but where does the rest of that water go?  It goes to the ocean. Instead of allowing that perfectly good water to be flushed out to the ocean, lets help replenish our groundwater resources by skimming some of that high winter flow water and putting it back into the ground.  Recharging our groundwater aquifers or “banking” it for the future can provide our communities, agriculture and environment the water it needs during severe droughts, such as ours.  Groundwater aquifers are being tapped during this drought; this is typical as water users switch from surface water sources which are stressed, to pumping groundwater.  Additional pumping of groundwater can also stress this precious resource.  In some areas of the county, such as Sonoma Valley, wells are going dry or being infiltrated with saline from the Bay.  In the North, we have to ensure our water portfolio is well balanced and that we have the infrastructure in place to provide a menu of water supply options.  As this drought continues, groundwater regulations and laws are swirling in Sacramento.  The best course of action is for voluntary, cooperative partnerships to ensure our groundwater resources are both managed properly and protected for all water users and uses.


James' Plan  |  James Gores' Booklet