Friday, July 25, 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.”

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

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

  • .

    News

    California climate change policies to hit our pocketbooks

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

     
    Tech Trekkers boldly go into STEM fields

    By Amy Jiang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Decoding breast milk secrets reveals clues to lasting health

    By Pat Bailey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Carwash raises funds for funeral expenses

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Bob Dunning: Hey, we want more than one thin dime

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Appeals court upholds high-speed rail route

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Artists, photographers invited to support Yolo Basin Foundation

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Unitarians will host summer camp

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Sudwerk’s sales grow, floating on a sea of dry hop lager

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Wetlands visitors will see migrating shorebirds

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    ‘Bak2Sac’ free train ride program launched

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    Explorit: Wonderful wetlands right at home

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    Recycle old paint cans for free

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

     
    Where your gas money goes

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A12

    Americans, internationals make connections

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

     
    Can you give them a home?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16 | Gallery

    STEAC needs donations of personal care items

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

     
    .

    Forum

    Trio disagrees on best option

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Thanks for emergency help

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Commenting system to change

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10, 16 Comments

     
    Support these local restaurants

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Let’s get the bench repaired

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

     
    Predicting climate changes

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

    Clinton’s book is worth a read

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

     
    .

    Sports

    Hudson solid, Hamels better in Giants’ loss

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Petrovic, Putnam share Canadian Open lead

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Moss powers A’s past Astros

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Enriquez brilliant, but Post 77 season ends with Area 1 loss

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    The un-Armstrong? Tour ‘boss’ Nibali wins Stage 18

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    ‘A Most Wanted Man’: Superb espionage drama

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Clyde Elmore: Art in the Wild

    By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Musicians perform at Sunday service

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A17 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Accord’s latest model is most fuel efficient

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Mary Lita Bowen

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    James Thomas Feather

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Richard ‘Dick’ Robenalt

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, July 25, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: A13

     
    .

    Real Estate Review

    Featured Listing

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER1

    Professional Services Directory

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER2

    Remax

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER3

    Sherman Home

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

    Tracy Harris

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4