MENDOCINO Co., 8/9/21 — With drought conditions expected to increase, the water emergency is continuing to intensify in Fort Bragg and the city is asking residents to conserve 10% more water than they have been since July.
On Monday night the Fort Bragg City Council unanimously approved declaring a Stage 3 water emergency, triggering more stringent conservation measures. Those measures are expected to reduce water use in the city by 10% more than required in Stage 2, which went into effect July 13, for an overall 20 to 30% reduction in use since the water emergency was declared in April.
Restrictions in Stage 3 include: limiting people from watering their lawns to Tuesdays from midnight to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.; forbidding restaurants from serving water unless it’s requested by a customer; and requiring pools, spas and ornamental fountains to be leakproof and equipped with recirculating pumps; among other things (full list here).
Water conservation efforts have been working and the city’s water use has dropped, but the City Council considered multiple drought-related items on its agenda, such as an agreement to supplement the city’s water supply with the local school district’s well water, because drought conditions aren’t expected to let up soon.
In July, the city as a whole used 712,000 gallons of water per day. That dropped to an average of 637,000, a drop of 10.5%, after Stage 2 was declared in the middle of the month. Some of that drop likely resulted from halting sales of water outside of the city, which hit an all-time high of 745,000 gallons for the month of June, or 3.6% of total water use.
Fort Bragg has enough water on-hand to meet all the needs of its residents, but City Manager Tabatha Miller said there’s still cause for concern. The city has three main sources of surface water — Waterfall Gulch (a tributary to Hare Creek), Newman Gulch (a tributary to the Noyo River) and the Noyo River.
In July, the city gets approximately 40% of its water from the Waterfall and Newman gulches and 60% from the Noyo, which it begins relying on more heavily as the summer progresses and the tributaries start drying up. But Noyo River stream flows tend to reach a low point in August and stay low until there’s significant rain. That is unlikely to be soon, based on the predictions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that conditions will be drier than average in Mendocino County through at least January.
“We’re not getting those rains until later in the year,” Miller said. “At least at a large enough scale to really make a difference, so that’s one of the things we’re preparing for this year.”
One of the ways the city is preparing is through the purchase of the Aquaclear desalination-reverse osmosis treatment system, which is expected to be installed the first week of September. That will ensure the city can keep using water from the Noyo River during high tide events, which when combined with low water levels can lead to high salinity levels, impacting the city’s ability to use the water.
“Those 6-foot tides really create havoc as far as our ability to pull water with the saline content out of it,” Miller said. In August and September, alone, Miller said there are expected to be 17 days with tides over 6 feet.
The city also entered into an agreement to use Fort Bragg Unified School District’s well water to subsidize the city’s supply if necessary and has increased its water storage capacity by 70% since 2015 during the last major drought. As of Monday, Fort Bragg has about 22.6 million gallons of water in storage, equaling approximately 30 days of water use at 750,000 gallons of water per day. Of that, 14.7 million gallons are stored at Summers Lane Reservoir, 4.5 million gallons in finished water tanks and 3.4 million in raw water holding ponds.
The city’s Public Works Department has free water conservation kits, including items like low-flow showerheads, available for residents. Contact [email protected] for more information.
For a full list of water use restrictions during Stage 3, click here.