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Drought-Savvy Healdsburg Homeowners Using Free, Recycled Water

HEALDSBURG (KPIX) - After imposing a strict ban on outdoor irrigation, the city of Healdsburg is offering an alternative -- free recycled water -- and they're willing to go door-to-door to deliver it.

Healdsburg has become the Bay Area's leader when it comes to emergency water conservation. Not because they want to, they really don't have any choice.

With Lake Mendocino, the city's sole water supply, at only 37 percent of capacity, people are being green by letting their gardens go brown. But there is another way to keep plants alive.

"We have millions of gallons of recycled water. It was a question of how do you get the water to the people?" said Felicia Smith, Healdsburg's Utility Conservation Analyst.

The city's wastewater treatment plant filters effluent into high-quality recycled water and the public filling station out front has become a popular place for people like Sam de la Cruz to top off their tanks for work or garden.

"If you show up in the mornings here, there's between 20 and 30 trucks waiting for water," he said. "It's crazy, you know? I mean, I've never seen this before!"

On Pordon Lane, 11 homes have installed water storage tanks and Brigette Mansell says people are so into conserving that they're looking past the landscaping and admiring each other's water storage systems.

"And it becomes not so much about your garden as much as it's about your tank now," she said, laughing. "It's not so much about your flowers, it's about how your hose is going out to water something."

But what if you don't have a way to bring the water home? That's where "JoJo" comes in. He's been hired by the city to drive his truck around town, personally delivering free recycled water, on a weekly basis, to those who register their tanks. They're currently delivering recycled water to about 350 homes but they expect that number could double in coming weeks as residents rush out to buy storage tanks. Though it's costing the city a lot of money, they see it as a way to keep people invested in conservation.

"If we're going to tell people that they can't use our drinking water to irrigate, we needed to find an alternative solution," said Smith.

Mansell sees that as uncommon good sense during these uncommon times.

"I'm proud of our city. I'm proud of the people that are trying to make sense out of this whole mess that we have," she said. "We really do come together as a community when you have a common purpose, and it gets very real when it's about water."

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