MENDOCINO Co., 8/6/21 — There are more than 20 different water districts in Mendocino County with varying supplies of water and moving the resource from areas with an abundance to those facing drought conditions could prove too expensive to meet every stakeholder’s needs.
The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors received an update on the drought and water supply at its regular meeting this Tuesday that highlighted the difficulty and costliness of hauling water from one area of the county to another. Josh Metz, senior adviser at the Regional Government Services Authority, told the board that the situation isn’t as dire for the community, which can receive assistance from the state, as it is for the area’s hospitality industry.
State water agencies, such as the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water, have funds available to get drinking water to low- and middle-income residents in desperate need, and state-funded disaster relief could be used to get water to residents, too. Nothing like that has emerged for businesses.
“The best source that is on my radar for dealing with the impacts to the economy would be the federal Economic Development Administration,” Metz said, adding that supervisors have been in talks with California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein about how to be able to use that federal agency to help with drought issues impacting businesses.
In the short-term, the Mendocino Unified School District has an excess supply of well water and is able to spare a single 3,500-gallon load of water per day, with priority going to families from the district. There have also been talks around how to get water from the inland water districts to coastal cities like Fort Bragg, which previously curtailed shipments of water outside of the city because of a drop in flow in the Noyo River. That presents challenges because of a complex regulatory environment, though Metz said that’s being worked on daily.
District 5 Supervisor Ted Williams pointed out that water haulers may be in short supply to move that water from one part of the county to another, and even if they could, it would be costly. One water hauler that Williams spoke to estimated that the cost of hauling from Ukiah, where water is as low as 2 cents a gallon, to the coast would be about 35 cents per gallon. That would cost $1,225 for a 3,500-gallon tank load, he said.
“I know a lot of families can’t afford that,” Williams said. “And a lot of businesses may just have to shut down. Restaurants and lodging probably can’t afford to operate with water in that price range.”
District 1 Supervisor Glenn McGourty said he and Metz have been in talks with the North Coast’s State Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood about how to alleviate the situation, but would need to come up with a specific ask in order for the legislators to be most effective.
“We’re really working to try to find sources of water that can meet both the increasing domestic needs and some of these economic needs,” Metz said.
The cities of Fort Bragg and Willits have had discussions about transporting about 1 million gallons of water per week over the hill using tankers on the Skunk Train tracks, but as of July 28 that proposal was no longer being seriously considered, according to Willits City Manager Brian Bender.
The Fort Bragg City Council will be addressing the water issue at its upcoming meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, including an agreement to share water with the Fort Bragg Unified School District. You can find the agenda here.