Thursday, September 18, 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

.

News

Jurors see Marsh questioned by police

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

 
Grace Garden: Five years of feeding the needy

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1

 
 
Wildfire shows explosive growth

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
For the record

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

Bike sale on Friday will benefit King High

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A2

 
Per Capita Davis: What to think

By John Mott-Smith | From Page: A3

International Festival moves to park for fourth year

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

 
Essay contest underway

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Sudwerk Wet Hop Lager plants seeds for area hops rebirth

By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Speakers plumb issues around the Constitution

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Australian pop band Dick Diver plays Third Space

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
RepowerYolo hosts solar seminar

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Local Girl Scouts are looking for a few good leaders

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A5

 
Reneau, Silberstein will read their poetry Thursday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Parents host campaign coffees for Archer

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Nominate deserving volunteers for top citizen honors

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Governor signs bill to support state’s ailing bee population

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

 
Backyard poultry symposium Sunday at UCD

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A5

Forum will answer questions about new license law

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
PG&E, Dixon company unveil truck that can restore power

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7 | Gallery

$12M earmarked for UCD life sciences center in Chile

By Karen Nikos-Rose | From Page: A7

 
.

Forum

She’s had it with his neglect

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Off-leash dogs are a danger

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Davis makes the NY Times

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Affordable housing affects health

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

Choose to wipe out hunger

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

.

Sports

DHS girls pound Mustangs in the pool

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Davis captures final nonleague volleyball outing

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS golfers blow past St. Francis

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Devils blow out Marauders at Brown Stadium

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Youth softball: Hurricanes win one of two slugfests with Woodland

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Youth roundup: These Diamonds are forever in the record books

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Davis falls to Vintage in a JV shootout

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B3

 
Baseball roundup: Duffy comes up big for Giants in Arizona

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Young Devil harriers carry the day

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

 
DHS girls tennis team stunned at Franklin

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

.

Features

Students get into the act with Shakespeare

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8 | Gallery

 
Street-smart tips for safe cycling

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

What’s happening, Sept. 18

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

 
Eagle Scout project makes life easier for Yolo Basin volunteers

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A10 | Gallery

.

Arts

Catie Curtis brings folk-rock ‘Flying Dream’ to The Palms on Friday Sept. 19

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
Wineaux: Back and forth in the high and low debate

By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A9

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Jean Botelli

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Comics: Thursday, September 18, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6