California drought: communities at risk of running dry
Kurtis Alexander | San Francisco Chronicle
Updated 10:43 pm, Wednesday, January 29, 2014
It is a bleak roadmap of the deepening crisis brought on by one of California's worst droughts - a list of 17 communities and water districts that within 100 days could run dry of the state's most precious commodity.
The threatened towns and districts, identified this week by state health officials, are mostly small and in rural areas. They get their water in a variety of ways, from reservoirs to wells to rivers. But, in all cases, a largely rainless winter has left their supplies near empty.
In the Bay Area, Cloverdale and Healdsburg in Sonoma County are among those at risk of running out of water, according to the state. The small Lompico Water District in the Santa Cruz Mountains is also on the list. Others could be added if the dry weather lingers.
"These systems all are experiencing challenges meeting customer need, and those challenges are exacerbated by drought conditions," said Matt Conens, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.
The health department is looking to help the communities in several ways, Conens said. In some areas, new wells will be dug. In others, water may be hauled in. In some cases, smaller water systems will be connected with larger ones.
The state's offer to provide assistance follows Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration of a drought emergency this month, which gives state agencies expanded powers and the flexibility to intervene.
In the mountain town of Lompico in Santa Cruz County, the creek that provides the community with water has run dry, while three wells that tap an underground aquifer aren't drawing as much as usual.
The water district has required its 1,200 or so customers to scale back water use by 30 percent to preserve what little water it has, but officials aren't sure the conservation targets are realistic.
"Here's the problem: We live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. People don't have lawns. They don't have gardens. How are they going to conserve 30 percent?" said Lois Henry, president of the Lompico Water District board.
The district has begun exploring opportunities to expand its supplies, perhaps upgrading wells or working with a neighboring water district. But the options are costly and could take time - quandaries that Henry expects to discuss with the state.
In Healdsburg, where the low-flowing Russian River threatens to undermine city wells, the mayor spoke with state officials this week about tapping additional wells in the nearby Dry Creek Valley, according to the city manager's office.
The city has the right to use the Dry Creek wells, but only for part of the year - and not until spring.
City Manager Marjie Pettus said lining up the additional water is a precautionary measure. Despite Healdsburg's listing on the state's most-vulnerable roster, she said, the city is not at risk of running dry.
"We do not anticipate having any difficulty meeting demand," she said.
Healdsburg was one of the first cities in the North Bay to enact mandatory conservation measures, imposing rules on homes and businesses last week. People can water landscaping only on certain days, while washing cars and filling swimming pools are prohibited.
Willits, in Mendocino County, is also on the state's list - and it, too, has declared a water shortage and passed mandatory conservation measures. City leaders said the move is a bid to keep the two reservoirs that provide city water from running dry in the spring should the drought persist.
'Preparing for worst'
"While we are hoping for the best, we want to be proactive in preparing for the worst," said City Manager Adrienne Moore.
A weather system rolling through the Bay Area this week is bringing some needed rain, but not enough of it. Until Wednesday, most of the state had seen little or no rainfall this month, setting up California for a third consecutive dry rainy season.
The Bay Area has seen less than 10 percent of the rainfall it ordinarily sees by this point in the season, and forecasters say rain would have to fall every day through May - and heavily - to bring conditions back to normal.
In addition to the Bay Area districts, the systems and communities in danger run from Kern County to the south through the Sierra Nevada foothills to the north. The districts at risk serve from 39 to 11,000 residents.
Communities at risk
State public health officials have identified 17 towns and water districts that could run out of water within 100 days if nothing is done to enhance their supplies:
Shaver Lake Heights Mutual Water Company (Fresno County)
Sierra Cedars Community Services District (Fresno County)
Bass Lake Water Company (Madera County)
Whispering Pines Apartments (Mariposa County)
Boulder Canyon Water Association (Kern County)
Cypress Canyon Water System (Kern County)
Lake Of The Woods Mutual Water Company (Kern County)
Camp Condor (Kern County)
Jackson Valley Irrigation District (Amador County)
City of Willits (Mendocino County)
Redwood Valley Community Water District (Mendocino County)
Brooktrail Township Community Services District (Mendocino County)
Washington Ridge Conservation Camp (Nevada County)
Ophir Gardens (Placer County)
Lompico Water District (Santa Cruz County)
City of Cloverdale (Sonoma County)
City of Healdsburg (Sonoma County)
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