MENDOCINO Co., 8/9/21 — If you go to the Eel River Campground near Covelo for a trip, be sure to take your own water supply.
Starting Tuesday, the United States Forest Service (USFS), which manages the Mendocino National Forest, is shutting off water access to the campground to preserve the fast disappearing spring water for the nine firefighters housed at the Eel River Fire Station. The forest’s district ranger, Frank Aebly, said Eel River was one of few campgrounds in the forest that has a water supply for visitors, and this was the first time during his almost 10 years in the position that water had to be shut off at the campground.
“We have an ongoing problem at one of our other fire stations,” Aebly said. “Soda Creek out by Lake Pillsbury, that spring typically starts to dry up towards the end of the summer, but I’ve never seen this at Eel River.”
Eel River was the only open campground that actually had a supply of water, and most of the campgrounds don’t have one, Aebly said. The only other campground in the area with a water supply was the Hammerhorn Campground, he said. That campground burned down during the August Complex fire, which consumed more than a million acres last year.
Aebly said he doesn’t expect that water supply to last forever, though how long it lasts will depend on whether the firefighters at the location get called to an assignment.
“If they’re not there using the water, it’ll sit in the storage tank while they’re gone,” Aebly said. “But it’s going to be questionable as we move through the summer.”
Water sources across the state have been drying up because of the drought, prompting the declaration of drought emergencies in counties like Mendocino. The county is experiencing its 13th driest year in 127 years of record-keeping and 11 households reported their wells have gone dry in the past 30 days.
California has a variable weather pattern and both drought and flooding are part of its climate system, but experts say human-caused global warming is intensifying those patterns. During a mid-July panel on the drought with the state Natural Resources Agency, the state’s water experts pointed to the fact that there was snowpack — albeit below its historical averages — in April that never made it into reservoirs because the snow melted faster than usual, and the soil absorbed an unprecedented amount of that snowmelt.
“We had the most rapid melting of snowpack in memory,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University climate scientist. “And by the time we were in June, it was as if we hadn’t had this snowpack at all essentially.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report projects extreme weather, drought and fire weather to continue increasing in western North America.
County supervisors have been considering both short- and long-term solutions to moving water from areas with a healthy supply to those without, including trucking water. During a state hearing with North Coast State Sen. Mike McGuire, stakeholders stressed the need to update the whole state’s water infrastructure and policies.
For Eel River, Aebly expects to have to begin trucking in potable water for the firefighters in the short-term. “It’s not cheap,” he said.
It’s currently a busy season for the site, which is primarily being used by people who want to camp or swim and migrant agricultural workers, Aebly said. He expects it to remain busy going into hunting season. “It’s unfortunate,” Aebly said, “but we don’t really have much of a choice.”
Here’s the announcement from USFS:
Drought Forces Water Shut Off at Campground
Covelo, Calif., August 9, 2021— The Mendocino National Forest will be shutting off water to the Eel River Campground in Covelo beginning Monday, Aug. 10. The spring that supplies water to the Eel River Campground and the Eel River Fire Station is drying up.
To help prolong the delivery of water to the firefighters living at the Eel River station, the water to the campground will be turned off. As a result, visitors to the campground will need to bring their own water.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to turn off water to the campground,” said District Ranger Frank Aebly. “But even with mitigation, I suspect water delivery from the spring will cease very soon, and we will need to truck in potable water just to supply the firefighters that live and work at the Eel River workstation.”