FORT BRAGG, CA., 9/15/21 — Continuing low flows in the Noyo River have prompted the city of Fort Bragg to once again upgrade its drought emergency level.
On Monday, the Fort Bragg City Council unanimously approved upgrading the emergency from a Stage 3 to a Stage 4 water crisis, which will require residents and businesses to conserve an additional 10% of water, bringing their total reduction in water use to about 30% to 40% of a normal year. Some new rules, like a ban on watering your lawn or washing your car outside of a commercial facility, will also go into effect. Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller told the council that the city has already been doing a great job with conservation efforts and residents have collectively reduced water use this year by a third compared to 2019, the last time when no conservation efforts were in place. Water use in the city dropped from around 700,000 gallons per day in June to 565,000 gallons per day as of mid-September.
The decision to upgrade the water emergency is in anticipation of worsening drought conditions on the Noyo River, which has historically supplied an increasing share of the city’s water as its other two sources, Waterfall and Newman gulches, experience declines in water availability by the end of summer. Waterfall Gulch is currently supplying 118,000 gallons per day and Newman Gulch is supplying 170,000, but that’s expected to drop by 10% going into October. “The next two months are really critical,” Miller said. This year, the Noyo is experiencing such low stream flows that some days it appears to be at a virtual standstill. Usually this time of year, the river flows at a speed of about 5 cubic feet per second, but for the past month that number has been well below 1 and a lot closer to 0 on most days. “We are at the lowest level we have been,” Miller said.
To complicate matters, 17 king tide events of more than 6 feet were predicted over the course of August and September, and 12 more are expected in October. Those king tides, combined with the low river flows, render the salt concentration in the water too high for the city to use for drinking. Fort Bragg bought a desalination machine in July to deal with such periods of low flows and high tides, but supply chain bottlenecks have delayed the machine’s arrival until the end of this month, likely Sept. 24. After the desalination plant is up and running, which is expected to be around the same time, it is expected to allow the city to pull around 144,000 gallons of water from the river per day. Another desalination plant will be arriving Sept. 30 and allow the city to desalinate groundwater pumped from the well at Redwood Elementary School.
Until then, the city will be relying on the 12.9-million-gallon Summers Lane Reservoir, which is currently at 90% capacity but is expected to drop to 63% of its capacity by the end of this month (9 million gallons). It’s expected to reach just 10% capacity by the end of October (1.4 million gallons). “By the time we get to Dec. 1,” Miller said, “if we don’t have any rainfall, we will essentially have gotten to pretty much the bottom of the reservoir.”
In the past, Miller said the region has gotten lucky with significant rainfall in late September and into November. “That is the thing that we are really hoping will come in the next couple months,” Miller said, “and at least give us a little relief from this drought.” That’s looking more likely based on updated predictions for rainfall over the next couple months from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That rainfall is still projected to be less than usual this month, but is expected to return to raining the same amount as an average year from September through November. “We’re really hoping that comes to fruition and we actually get some of that rainfall we typically get in the fall,” Miller said.
City staff will be distributing free water conservation kits for residents at the city farmer’s market every Wednesday. To see all the conservation rules that go into effect during Stage 4, click here.
Watch the Fort Bragg City Council meeting here: