MENDOCINO Co., 8/13/21 — Fort Bragg is worried the community may not have enough water to last through the rest of the year. Ukiah has been investing in its water resources for years and now has some to spare.
Even though all of Mendocino County is facing an extreme drought, water resources for each part of the county vary widely. That’s led to the county’s four municipalities — Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Willits and Point Arena — working on mutual aid agreements that will make it easier to transport water from one part of the county to another.
Those agreements would initially be focused on using tanker trucks to get the water from Ukiah to Fort Bragg, said Josh Metz, who has been contracted to coordinate Mendocino’s drought response, told the Mendocino Countywide Drought Task Force on Thursday.
Those mutual aid agreements are in draft form right now and once those are finalized, Metz said the focus will shift to sourcing water trucks, likely by the end of the month if not sooner. The initial goal is to send 10 truckloads that are 6,000 gallons of water apiece (60,000 to 70,000 gallons total) to the Summers Lane Reservoir in Fort Bragg every day. After being treated by the city’s treatment plant, Metz said that water would be offered to local water haulers, albeit at a slightly higher price. It’s going to cost 6 cents per gallon instead of 3 cents.
The drought task force is working on finding resources to help businesses that need help to weather the drought.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) disbursed $25 million of $200 million in drought funding for small communities. While none of the initial funds went to Mendocino County, a simultaneous change in guidelines for the funding could revive efforts to use the Skunk Train to transport water between Willits and Fort Bragg. The new guidelines list hauling water by rail as a project eligible for funds.
“One of the big complications with the idea of using the Skunk Train to haul water was how it was going to be paid for,” Metz said. “ … Issues of sourcing that water remain.”
Any movement with that project would be at least a month out, but Metz said it would be beneficial in reducing the cost of hauling the water and reducing trucks on the highway. A couple people at the meeting expressed concerns with the idea of using the Skunk Train to haul water and thought it would be better for individual communities to build up their own water resiliency through projects like investing in desalination infrastructure in Fort Bragg.
One resident of the Willits Valley said people were already worried there about Willits drafting from the aquifer they depend on and that concern was only exacerbated with the news of the Skunk Train proposal. “It makes me very nervous when I’m in a small valley like Little Lake,” he said, “and my only source of water is my well.”
The Ukiah Valley Basin Sustainable Groundwater Management Agency (UVBGSA) monitors the water levels for the basin and District 1 Supervisor Glenn McGourty said it seems to be in pretty good balance so far. That water would only be tapped in emergency situations and wouldn’t be a sustainable long-term option, he said.
The next meeting of the drought ad hoc committee is set for 4 p.m. Sept. 9.