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Healdsburg residents remain wary after drought lessons despite heavy rain

Healdsburg residents continue to practice water-saving tips amid heavy rain
Healdsburg residents continue to practice water-saving tips amid heavy rain 03:10

As the rain continues to fall, one Sonoma County town remembers three years ago when their water supply almost ran dry.  

The lessons Healdsburg residents learned from the dry times have stuck with them, and as Healdsburg's leading water conservation advocate, Brigette Mansell was out Monday taking video of the storm-swollen Russian River.

It's hard to believe that just three years ago, Healdsburg nearly ran out of water.

Lake Mendocino, the town's only source of water, was running so low that the state mandated a 40 percent cut in water usage for the whole town.

"Healdsburg is in a great place with water," said Mansell. "Except the Russian River continues to flow to the West. And as everybody knows, until we capture the water, we're not out of the problem of the drought. Because Healdsburg doesn't capture its water."

So, the town learned creative ways to save water, like Mansell's homemade runoff collection system that filters water from her roof into a large storage tank. She washed her car with it last week.

"We did an amazing job; the residents, especially, did an amazing job," she said. "We've adapted to some changes, and we continue to live with an attitude of, 'We have to save water.'"

Even with all the recent storms, people haven't forgotten when it felt like it might never rain again.

"It was very scary. At home, we were conserving and taking a two-minute shower and things like that. And watching all the reservoirs and creeks dry up," said resident Barbara Mendez.

At the Antique Harvest collectibles store, she and Janice Emerson discussed how the experience changed their outlooks about water.

"I mean, I appreciate it. I'm grateful that we have it," said Mendez.  "I think once it starts raining, there's such an excess, I go, 'OK, I'm done.'  But on the other hand, I wish there was some way we could save it. I watch the river, and it's going to the ocean. What if we don't have any rain next year. We could have saved all that."

"And I'm careful about washing my dishes," said Emerson. "I have a container that the water sits in instead of just running down the sink. I'm not worried about the cost, I'm worried having it, having the water. So, it's changed my life."

The water restrictions have long since been lifted, and the lawns are green again. But that doesn't mean people have gone back to wasting what they now know is a precious resource.

"And so, we have a lot to be proud of," said Mansell. But we also have habits now that are built into the way we're living. And it's exciting because you don't forget those moments. Hopefully, we don't forget those moments that we need to continue to conserve."

Perhaps more than any other place in the Bay Area, Healdsburg has felt the sting of drought. The river might be running high now, but, with climate change, no one there is truly confident it will stay that way.  

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