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Who’s bearing the water burden in Healdsburg?

Water is spiritual for me. I’m keenly aware of its transformative properties. Being in water, floating down the Russian River from Redwood Drive to Memorial Bridge, around Fitch Mountain, wading into the surf where the mouth of the Russian River meets the Pacific—my relationship with water is redemptive, joyful, and intimate.

Recently, I was called a “water evangelist” by a local journalist and this label made my deep connection with water even clearer. I AM preaching the gospel of Conservation in our opulent, swanky town of Healdsburg. The gospel: “Every Drop Counts.” Climate Resilience starts with water.

The uncertainty of precipitation rises with Climate Change and environmental degradation. Our Chamber of Commerce markets Healdsburg as “A Small Town with World Class Charm,” yet we’re out of water, and our town, despite this water crisis, continues to develop luxury resorts—291 new hotel rooms in the past four years. During isolated, people-deprived days and nights of COVID, I trained myself to “Look Up.” I noticed trees and stars, the many birds perched on my 100-year-old oak tree, and now I look up and see an increase in Alaska Airlines Boeing 737s flying over my eastern Healdsburg home.

Our luxury hotel rooms, some of them commanding $1,350.00 and upwards—for a one-night stay—are occupied by out of town guests who flew into the newly-expanded Charles Schultz-Sonoma County Airport, greeted by Snoopy with a bottle of Zin.

How are we messaging to our summer guests about our Climate Emergency? About our town’s precious, empty Russian River watershed? Is this a teachable moment for these privileged travelers who come from places of Water Security? We should all be True Believers in Climate Change.

Effective June 8, 2021, Healdsburg’s Stage Three mandatory conservation seeks a 40% reduction in water use citywide with additional, restrictive rules:

• 74 gallons per resident per day.

• No irrigation

• Hand watering ONLY

• Planting is prohibited

$1,000 fine per day...the city means business!

Healdsburg residents HAVE changed habits and successfully reduced water consumption: hand watering; purchasing personal water tanks to reuse City treated wastewater; keeping trees alive with dishwater; installing “laundry to landscape” systems; showering quicker and less; and collaborating with neighbors!

I purchased a 550 gallon water tank at Harmony Farms in early May anticipating the MEGA-Drought, coupled with fire season. Healdsburg is delivering highly treated wastewater to residents weekly who have a storage tank. I am addicted. When I hear the loud, “contracted-by-the-city” water truck coming down the lane, my heart swells with relief and gratitude. Now I have security. I have the precious element that is the most essential component of human and plant survival. Our COVID Victory gardens drink in the hand-watering and my favorite plants and trees have been saved by this gift from the wastewater treatment plant. It gets pretty basic: we are in a dire situation. Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California, the Western United States, can no longer run on systems and procedures that are decades old.

The Walbridge Fire, a year ago August 17, burned 55,000 acres and destroyed 150 homes, my friends’ homes, in the rugged hills of northwestern Sonoma County. One out of eight students where I taught high school English lost their home in the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

How do we forget? Why do we forget? As a local Healdsburg artist wrote: “The New Four Seasons: Fire, Flood, Earthquake, and Drought”

What are we learning? How are we adapting to the “new normal” and this pregnant time for change? What do we really need?

Healdsburg needs a PAUSE. Stop developing resorts, hotel rooms, penthouses that sell for millions of dollars with HOA fees at over a thousand a month!

Business as usual is unacceptable. Push the PAUSE button and Reflect and Research.

Brigette Mansell is a retired Santa Rosa City Schools high school English teacher and served on the Healdsburg City Council 2014-2018 and was Healdsburg mayor in 2018. Now she is a water-bucket hauling, hand-watering middle class Healdsburg resident.

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