Sonoma County dairy farmers allowed to tap into aquifer as new water source

Dairy cow farmers in Petaluma caught a huge break Thursday. Because of the drought many cows have been drinking water trucked in from miles away.

"Every day our farmers are hauling roughly 60-70,000 gallons a day, sometimes 10 truckloads to their cows," says Tawny Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. 

But with a turn of a valve, they'll be able to replenish their water supplies without going through all that.

"So without this program, those dairies would have had to go out of business," Tesconi said.

The new water is coming from an underground aquifer that the water district is tapping into through this drought relief well.

It will now send 1.6 million gallons of water a day to a storage unit in Petaluma. Cows and residents alike will be drinking it along with folks in Sonoma and parts of Marin Counties.

This emergency relief well was used during the drought six years ago, but never to this extent.

"This is probably the largest use of groundwater to date. We have two other wells that will also have to be brought online. For now, the demand is so great," said Sonoma Water General Manager Grant Davis.

Much of Sonoma County relies on the Russian River as its main source of water. But water levels there are low and getting lower.

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To reduce its reliance on the river, Sonoma Water has dug deep. 800-feet deep to be exact. That underground water is treated and safe to drink.

"This well is helping us meet a state mandate to reduce diversions off the Russian river and actually make it through this severe drought," said Davis.

Dairy cows drink about 40 gallons a day. They and other livestock will be getting about a quarter of the underground water. The rest will go to the public through different water utilities.

The district expects to build a water recovery system so that it can replenish the water it is taking out, with water from the winter rains.