Tuesday, September 2, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Willits’ water shortage stokes fears of future

California Drought Communities In Crisis

A warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah on Tuesday. Despite recent spot rains, the reservoir is only about 37 percent full. California remans in the midst of an historic drought, causing Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. AP photo

By
From page A6 | February 07, 2014 |

By Jason Dearen

WILLITS — In this small logging town in Northern California’s redwood country, small blue signs urging water conservation are almost everywhere you look.

Just south of Willits, in one of the state’s most verdant corners, crows and other birds peck at dry ground that should be covered in water at the city’s Centennial Reservoir, which is less than a third full. The creek that feeds it has slowed to a trickle.

“It’s common at this time of year for the water to be going over the cement wall right here. In fact, we’d be standing in water,” said Bruce Burton, a Willits city councilman, gesturing toward the small cement dam in the creek. “In the 20 years I’ve been in local government, we’ve never experienced this kind of condition.”

While rain is predicted through the weekend in the north and central parts of the state, California remains in the midst of an historic drought. The state’s Department of Public Health says 17 rural areas including Willits — a town of about 5,000 that usually sees about 50 inches of rain a year — are dangerously low on water, and officials expect that number to grow.

In addition to declaring a drought emergency, California has canceled water deliveries from the state’s water system to farms and thirsty cities and shut down fishing in dozens of streams to protect imperiled salmon and steelhead.

The emergency has become a disruption to everyday life in Willits, a Mendocino County locale known as the final resting place of the racehorse Seabiscuit. City leaders have banned lawn watering and car washing, mandated all residents cut water use dramatically and asked restaurants to serve the precious resource only upon request and to conserve, such as by using paper plates.

While California sees cycles of drought normally, scientists say the dry weather since Oct. 1 appears to be unique in its severity.

“According to tree ring records, this water year, which began Oct. 1, really stands out as one of the worst single years in the last 500 years,” said Lynn Ingram, author of “The West Without Water” and a University of California earth science professor.

“This year, the drought is impacting places more than we’ve ever seen, at least that I’ve come across in my research,” she added.

Of the 17 water-starved rural agencies, three are in rainy Mendocino County and are districts that rely largely on rainwater to fill their reservoirs. Other areas include parts of Fresno, Kern and Santa Cruz counties.

After a record dry 2013, Mendocino County leaders were the first in California to declare a drought emergency, which they did on Jan. 7.

Things are so scarce that the sheriff’s office is on alert for water bandits. During the 2009-10 drought, authorities caught thieves pumping water from Lake Mendocino into trucks. The reservoir is currently about 37 percent full, according to county officials.

“Water theft is a big concern, so we’re doing public announcements and have a line to call for reports to the sheriff’s department,” said Carre Brown, a Mendocino County supervisor. “All deputies are on the watch.”

Unlike many of the other communities facing water woes, Willits doesn’t have readily accessible groundwater.

Officials are racing to develop two groundwater wells within city limits, but the water in both sources is polluted by naturally occurring arsenic and other minerals, so the city needs an expensive treatment facility to make it potable. The state public health department is testing the water to help determine what kind of treatment is needed.

Ron Owens, a spokesman for the state public health department, said officials are helping struggling towns like Willits identify other water options, like connecting with other water systems if need be. It also has some emergency funding available.

Meantime, officials say people in the bucolic town seem to be following the mandatory conservation orders.

Even the local coin-operated car wash is only offering recycled water.

“We have been rationing severely. No plants get watered. That’s over. Turned off the toilet. I haven’t washed my hair for two weeks,” said Willits resident Andrea Onstad, who was washing her car Monday afternoon.

A few blocks down at Gribaldo’s diner on the city’s Main Street, customers sat at tables with no water glasses. A sign on the wall warned of the drought emergency — water was available only upon request.

The water shortage has changed everything for people in Willits — even how they spend their free time at home.

At Jim Harden’s house, his lawn is splotched with brown spots, and empty flower pots usually stuffed with colorful annuals are stacked high. He’s even unhooked his drip irrigation system.

“We’re very concerned. If we totally run out of water, what are we going to do? Go to another community?” Harden, 78, said, standing in his small greenhouse. “It’s frightening.”

Comments

comments

The Associated Press

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Davis is not immune: Are you ready for a big quake?

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Planning begins for Davis Neighbors’ Night Out

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1

    Sword-attack suspect awaiting trial in Davis

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    6 militants killed in U.S. strike in Somalia

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    San Francisco is first to test urban farming law

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Learn about RNA at Science Café

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Google Glass will be discussed, demonstrated

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Tickets still available for DHS Hall of Fame dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Cuddle up at Project Linus’ meeting

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Public opinion sought about Nishi Gateway

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A3

     
    International folk dancing offered Sundays

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Got bikes? Donate ‘em!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Rose garden bricks to be dedicated Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    It’s About Time plays Davis Farmers Market’s Picnic in the Park

    By Anthony Siino | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Register year-round at Davis Chinese School

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Forum

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A4

     
    Have the facts before you judge

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Tesla has state walking a tightrope

    By Tom Elias | From Page: A4

     
    Special-needs passengers ignored

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A4

    A cure for Davis’ problems

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A4

     
    A good use for the MRAP

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A4

    Marriage vs. male instinct

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    .

    Sports

    DHS boys looking to replicate a big cross country performance

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Life without MacDonald starts Friday for DHS

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Clark recalls his hole-in-one — the first at Davis Golf Course

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Fruits of their Labor Day

    By Sue Cockrell | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD roundup: Aggies edge Quinnipiac in overtime

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    Sports briefs: Hot Shots basketball tryouts coming up

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

     
    Baseball roundup: Aces end River Cats’ season

    By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B3

    Junior Blue Devils strong in home debut, winning 3 on the field

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Elaine Dracia Greenberg

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 (set 1)

    By Creator | From Page: B5

     
    Comics: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 (set 2)

    By Creator | From Page: B7