MENDOCINO, Co. 9/13/21 — Water has begun trickling from Ukiah to Fort Bragg, and the county’s main task going forward is to scale up hauling to meet demand.
The city of Fort Bragg announced Sept. 9 that it had received its first 5,000-gallon delivery of water from Ukiah and is expected to receive 10,000 gallons per day that will allow Fort Bragg to resume outside water sales after halting them in mid-July. The two certified water haulers on the coast can resume their water sales, too, which were put to a stop once Westport shut off outside water sales at the start of the month. Josh Metz, who was contracted by the county to help coordinate the drought response, told the countywide drought task force, also on Sept. 9, the process has been “set up to address both domestic and commercial needs with some price difference.”
But 10,000 gallons a day is a lot less than the 70,000 gallons the county estimated is needed to meet coastal demand. Metz said the main task going forward will be scaling up the Water Supply Replacement Project to meet that demand. The major limiting factor is the availability of the appropriate type of potable water hauling trucks, which are in short supply because of the demand generated by other drought- and fire-related emergencies across the state.
The county has already overcome a series of obstacles in getting the water to the coast. For instance, the city of Ukiah was facing potential fines from the State Water Resources Control Board for diverting 1.4 cubic feet per second of water from the Russian River after entirely halting its diversions when curtailment orders were sent out in early August. However, the city announced last week that it had reached an agreement with the state water board to allow Ukiah to do a once-per-week pull on the river to get water to sell to coastal residents and businesses. That will ultimately amount to about 25 acre feet of water diverted from the river in total this fall.
Finding a water source also proved difficult. Initially the county was considering having water shipped to the coast from Willits. Logistically it would have been easier and cheaper to get the water to Fort Bragg from Willits, but 1st District Supervisor Glenn McGourty said Willits isn’t in a position to do that right now though the city eventually wants to participate in the mutual aid agreements that are making the potentially subsidized intercity water deliveries possible. “They’re not quite ready yet to participate because they really haven’t got the groundwater part of their water system up and running the way they want,” McGourty said.
The county committed $1.5 million to cover the cost of the program, around $900,000 of which is expected to come from Pacific Gas & Electric disaster settlement funds, and is hoping to have that reimbursed through state or federal grant dollars. There’s more certainty that the long hauling cost for the water will be covered for residents than for businesses. The county has also discussed using transient occupancy tax (TOT) money to finance the project since it’s collected anytime overnight guests stay in the county’s lodging facilities and that revenue stream originates primarily on the coast.
The water hauling project is just one program in a constellation of initiatives aimed at addressing the drought. Another project is aiming to desalinate water from one of Fort Bragg’s main water sources, the Noyo River, which has been experiencing historically low flows. The water from the Noyo becomes too brackish to drink when the river is experiencing low flows that become compounded by high tide events. Those high tide events are expected over the next three weeks. As a result, the Fort Bragg City Council will be discussing whether to upgrade its drought emergency to a Stage 4, which would require more conservation efforts citywide.
Watch the countywide drought task force meeting below: