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This past summer, as California faced a historic drought, reservoirs used by the small city of Healdsburg dropped to record lows.

“It puts us in a situation where we just simply don’t have enough water to go about our normal daily practices,” says Terry Crowley, the city’s utility director.

He says to conserve water, Healdsburg needed to slash consumption by 40%. City officials limited household use and banned watering ornamental lawns.

But they did not want residents’ trees and bushes to die, so they found a creative solution.

The city delivered up to 500 gallons of treated, disinfected wastewater to residents each week for watering mature landscaping.

The program helped the city meet its water conservation goal. 

“Almost without exception, everybody stepped up to the challenge and met it,” he says.

But Crowley says relying on wastewater is not an ideal long-term solution because it’s expensive to haul.

So as the climate warms, he says many residents are replacing their lawns with more drought-tolerant landscaping.

“And that’s really what we’d like to see as far as conservation and really future-proofing us for future droughts,” he says.

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media and Diana Madson