California tightens water regulations amid long drought

Pastor Frankie Olmedo, 56, who volunteers four hours a day to hand out water, fills up a container in Porterville, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Pastor Frankie Olmedo, 56, who volunteers four hours a day to hand out water, fills up a container in Porterville, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Water regulators in California voted on Tuesday to outlaw watering the lawn within 48 hours of a rainstorm, the latest effort to spur Californians to conserve as the state enters its fourth year of drought.

Facing a dramatic slowdown in voluntary conservation efforts by property owners, the state Water Resources Control Board also tightened conservation rules in other ways, prohibiting water from being served in restaurants unless customers request it, and forbidding lawn-watering more than twice a week.

“I am sorry we have to do this,” Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said before the vote. “But we are not seeing the level of stepping up and ringing the alarm bells that the situation really warrants.”

California is the only U.S. state to regulate water use in this manner, Marcus said.

The drought lingers on despite storms that brought some respite in December and February. The storms helped fill some of the state’s reservoirs higher than they were at this time last year, but most still have less water than historical averages show is typical.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which melts in the spring and provides up to a third of the state’s water, stood at 12 percent of normal on March 17.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)

California Is Turning Back Into A Desert And There Are No Contingency Plans

Drought-Public-Domain-300x204Once upon a time, much of the state of California was a barren desert.  And now, thanks to the worst drought in modern American history, much of the state is turning back into one.  Scientists tell us that the 20th century was the wettest century that the state of California had seen in 1000 years.  But now weather patterns are reverting back to historical norms, and California is rapidly running out of water.  It is being reported that the state only has approximately a one year supply of water left in the reservoirs, and when the water is all gone there are no contingency plans.  Back in early 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the entire state, but since that time water usage has only dropped by 9 percent.  That is not nearly enough.  The state of California has been losing more than 12 million acre-feet of total water a year since 2011, and we are quickly heading toward an extremely painful water crisis unlike anything that any of us have ever seen before.

But don’t take my word for it.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti “is the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine”.  What he has to say about the horrific drought in California is extremely sobering…

As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

Are you starting to understand why so many experts are so alarmed?

For much more from Famiglietti, check out this 60 Minutes interview.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, essentially the entire state is suffering drought conditions right now.  And as you can see from the map below, most of the state is currently experiencing either the highest or the second-highest classification of drought…

US Drought Monitor California 2015

Nearly 40 million people live in the state of California at the moment.

What are they all going to do when the water is gone?

In some rural areas, reservoirs are already nearly bone dry.  And in other areas, the water quality has gone way down.  For example, in one Southern California neighborhood black water is now coming out of the taps…

Residents of a Southern California neighborhood are concerned about the fact that the water flowing out of the taps in their homes is the color black. That’s right; the water coming out of their faucets is indeed black — not gray, not cloudy — but black. Inky, opaque black water that the water company says is okay to drink.

Those who live in Gardena, California, are understandably skeptical when asked to consume water that strongly resembles crude oil or something emitted by a squid. The water reportedly also has an “odor of rotten eggs or sewer smell,” according to one resident.

Perhaps you don’t care about what happens to California.

Perhaps you believe that they are just getting what they deserve.

And you might be right about that.

But the truth is that this is a crisis for all of us, because an enormous amount of our fresh produce is grown in the state.

As I discussed in a previous article, the rest of the nation is very heavily dependent on the fruits and vegetables grown in California.  The following numbers represent California’s contribution to our overall production…

99 percent of the artichokes

44 percent of asparagus

two-thirds of carrots

half of bell peppers

89 percent of cauliflower

94 percent of broccoli

95 percent of celery

90 percent of the leaf lettuce

83 percent of Romaine lettuce

83 percent of fresh spinach

a third of the fresh tomatoes

86 percent of lemons

90 percent of avocados

84 percent of peaches

88 percent of fresh strawberries

97 percent of fresh plums

Without the agricultural production of the state of California, we are in a massive amount of trouble.

And of course there are other areas all over the globe that are going through similar things.  For instance, taps in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are running dry as Brazil experiences the worst drought that it has seen in 80 years.

The world simply does not have enough fresh water left at this point, and that is why water is being called “the new oil”.  The following comes from CBS News…

It’s been said that the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water. The Earth’s population has more than doubled over the last 50 years and the demand for fresh water — to drink and to grow food — has surged along with it. But sources of water like rainfall, rivers, streams, reservoirs, certainly haven’t doubled. So where is all that extra water coming from? More and more, it’s being pumped out of the ground.

Water experts say groundwater is like a savings account — something you draw on in times of need. But savings accounts need to be replenished, and there is new evidence that so much water is being taken out, much of the world is in danger of a groundwater overdraft.

And if scientists are right, what we are experiencing right now may just be the very beginning of our problems.  In fact, one team of researchers has concluded that the Southwestern United States is headed for a “megadrought” that could last for decades…

Scientists had already found that the Southwestern United States were at great risk of experiencing a significant megadrought (in this case meaning drought conditions that last for over 35 years) before the end of the 21st century. But a new study published in Science Advancesadded some grim context to those predictions.

Columbia University climate scientists Jason Smerdon and Benjamin Cook, and Cornell University’s Toby Ault were co-authors on the study. They took data from tree rings and other environmental records of climate from the Southwest and compared them to the projections of 17 different climate models that look at precipitation and soil moisture. When they made the comparison between past and future, they found that all the models agreed: the next big megadrought is coming, and it will be way worse than anything we’ve seen in over 1,000 years–including droughts that have been credited with wiping out civilizations.

Needless to say, along with any water crisis comes a food crisis.

Virtually everything that we eat requires a tremendous amount of water to grow.  And at this point, the world is already eating more food than it produces most years.

So what is going to happen to us as this water crisis gets even worse?

California Has Just One Year of Water Reserves, So… Water Cannons

watercannonsJay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has a terrifying piece in the Los Angeles Times about the future of California’s water. According to Famiglietti, the state has just one year of water in reserves:

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

And it gets worse. Apparently we have no real plan for dealing with the continuation of our current drought. So what’s Famiglietti’s solution to this problem? Immediate mandatory water rationing, the acceleration of legislation that focuses on sustainability, and the creation of a new state task force to come up with long term solutions. Pffffft. Good luck.

That all sounds hard. Like really hard. Even in a state that didn’t have completely dysfunctional government, that would be hard. So may I suggest an idea from history?2

In the early 1950s a construction engineer by the name of Sidney Cornell proposed shooting man-made geysers from Northern California to Southern California. The illustration above ran in the October 1951 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine, showing how this whole thing was supposed to work. The system would leapfrog water down the state, with plants spaced one mile apart. Of course, with Northern California also struggling, we’ll have to pull that water from somewhere else. Alaska, maybe?

Yes, it’s a really idiotic idea. But it seems about as likely as getting anything done politically at any level in California’s government right now. Forget the Hyperloop. Bring on the water cannons!

Image by Frank Tinsley via Modern Mechanix blog

 

Washington state governor declares drought emergency

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency across three regions including key agricultural hubs of the U.S. Northwest State on Friday, citing near record low snowpack levels ahead of the spring runoff.

Watersheds on the Olympic Peninsula, east side of the central Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and Walla Walla region, which are vital to apple and wine production, will be hit hardest with drought conditions, the governor’s office said.

Snowpack is a mere 7 percent of normal in the Olympic Mountains. It ranges from 8 to 45 percent of normal across the Cascades, and is 67 percent of normal in the Walla Walla region.

“We can’t wait any longer; we have to prepare now for drought conditions that are in store for much of the state,” said Inslee. “Snowpack is at record lows, and we have farms, vital agricultural regions, communities and fish that are going to need our support.”

An unusually warm winter has caused much of the precipitation to fall as rain, leaving mountain snowpack a fraction of normal. And a healthy snowpack is what would slowly feed rivers across the state and sustains farms and fish through the drier summer months.

Short and long-range weather forecasts are not expected to bring relief, calling for warmer and drier weather.

With snowpack statewide averaging 27 percent of normal, 34 of the state’s 62 watersheds are expected to receive less than 75 percent of their normal water supplies.

The Washington Department of Ecology has requested $9 million in drought relief from the legislature. The money would pay for agricultural and fisheries projects, emergency water-right permits, changes to existing water rights, and grant water-right transfers.

For now, water suppliers in the Seattle, Tacoma and Everett areas are in decent shape and are not projecting much hardship, according to the governor’s office.

The drought emergency comes as California battles its worst drought in decades.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Richard Chang)

Scientists warn of ‘mega-drought’ risk in western US

megadroughtLong-lasting mega-droughts could occur with increasing frequency in the western United States later this century if no action is taken to rein in climate change by curbing fossil fuel use, researchers said.

Mega-drought is defined as any drought as bad as the worst already seen in the 20th century, but lasting much longer, for 35 years or more.

The study is the first to predict that the coming intense dry spells could exceed the decades-long mega-droughts that occurred centuries ago and are blamed for the demise of certain civilizations in the late 13th century.

“I was honestly surprised at just how dry the future is likely to be,” said co-author Toby Ault, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University.

“I look at these future mega-droughts like a slow moving natural disaster. We have to put mega-droughts into the same category as other natural disasters that can be dealt with through risk management.”

The risks and dangers are worse today because of the larger population and greater dependence on water resources, scientists warned.

“We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak,” said Jason Smerdon, a co-author and climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“Even when selecting for the worst mega-drought-dominated period, the 21st century projections make the mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden.”

– ‘Unfavorable’ forecast –

Researchers applied 17 different climate models to analyze the future impact of rising temperatures on regions from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

They also projected a continued rise in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and looked at a scenario in which actions were taken to cut back on greenhouse gases resulting in lower emissions. Both approaches raised concern for the future.

“The results… are extremely unfavorable for the continuation of agricultural and water resource management as they are currently practiced in the Great Plains and southwestern United States,” said David Stahle, professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas who was not involved in the study.

Currently the western United States has been experiencing a drought for about 11 of the past 14 years.

The dry area spans California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma and other parts of the region, directly affects more than 64 million people.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Benjamin Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, and published in a new AAAS online journal called Science Advances

Tests planned on mysterious ‘milky rain’ in U.S. Pacific Northwest

Northwest Milky Rain

Northwest Milky Rain

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Scientists from two U.S. Pacific Northwest laboratories plan to conduct tests of unusual precipitation that fell across the region over the weekend in hopes of pinpointing the origins of so-called “milky rain” that has mystified residents, officials said on Wednesday.

Officials at both the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Benton Clean Air Agency, both in Washington state, said they had collected samples of the rain, which left a powdery residue on cars across a wide swath of the two states.

Scientists at the Richland lab said they believe the rain may have carried volcanic ash from an erupting volcano in Japan, while the clean air agency said its staffers believe dust from central Oregon was the culprit.

The National Weather Service has said it believes the powdery rain was most likely a byproduct of dust storms hundreds of miles away in Nevada, although it could not rule out volcanic ash from Japan as a possible culprit.

But the National Weather Service has also said it was not equipped to perform a chemical analysis of the rain that would be required to pinpoint its origins.

Wherever the milky precipitation came from, officials say they do not believe it poses any health risk. Air monitoring stations did not detect anything unusual while the rain was falling, said Robin Bresley Priddy, executive director of Benton Clean Air.

“We don’t have any reason to think there’s anything wrong, but there’s no reason not to be cautious if you’re concerned,” she added. “You may want to wash it off your car with water, rather than with your hands, and avoid touching it and breathing it in.”

The Drought Apocalypse Approaches As The Colorado River Basin Dries Up

Scientists on Thursday released a first-of-its-kind study that finds the seven states of the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin are depleting groundwater reserves at a rapid rate. That threatens the future of a river that supplies water to 40 million people and irrigates 4 million acres of farmland.

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA analyzed data from a satellite that measures underground water reserves to calculate that the Colorado River Basin has lost 65 cubic kilometers—that’s 17.3 trillion gallons—of water between December 2004 and November 2013. That represents twice the capacity of the United States’ largest reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada. Most worrying, 75 percent of the loss came from groundwater supplies.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” Stephanie Castle, the report’s lead author and a water resources specialist at UC Irvine, said in a statement. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Terrifying, actually. Groundwater reserves have accumulated over thousands of years and recharge at an exceedingly slow rate as rainwater and snowmelt seep into the ground. Rain is rare as the current drought enters its 15th year.

The data indicates that farmers and cities are pumping far more groundwater than can be replenished. At some point, the well will run dry.

“We observe a negative net change in groundwater storage over the 108-month time period [of the study], indicating that groundwater withdrawals (pumping) are not balanced by recharge and must be greater than the observed depletion rate,” Castle said in an email.

Once the seven states of the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming—deplete their groundwater reserves beyond the point of no return, they will run out of options. Usually, the states rely on aboveground reservoirs like Lake Mead to help them weather dry years. But the water level at Lake Mead has fallen to a historic low, and other reservoirs are drying up fast.

It will get worse, especially as the region grows hotter because of climate change.

“The rapid rates of groundwater depletion will lead to further declines in Colorado River steam flows and, combined with declining snowpack and population growth, will likely threaten the long-term ability” to supply water to the seven states, said Castle.

With less water flowing into reservoirs, the states will keep pumping irreplaceable groundwater reserves. That “poses a significant threat to the long-term water security of the region,” concluded the report, which is to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

So what to do? First, fill in the data gap to figure out exactly how much water is left so decisions can be made about its management for the future. That’s where the satellite program called Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment comes in. The satellite measures tiny changes in an area’s gravitational pull to determine its groundwater capacity.

“There’s only one way to put together a very large–area study like this, and that is with satellites,” Jay Famiglietti,  a coauthor of the report and a senior water cycle scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

Half of US Is In Drought

Half of the United States is experiencing drought, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. National Drought Monitor.

The drought is deepest in California and the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, according to the latest drought map, released May 8. Most of California is in extreme or exceptional drought, and triple-digit heat was returning to Texas and Oklahoma, according to Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center, who penned a report on recent drought conditions. “This is not the recipe for recovery as the calendar pushes toward summer,” Svoboda wrote of the heat in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. “What winter wheat wasn’t damaged or killed off by recent hard freezes was left to bear the brunt of the heat and dryness this week, with little in the way of relief on the horizon.” The U.S. drought is concentrated in the Plains states and in the West, though Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Appalachians stretching from West Virginia into eastern Tennessee are all experiencing abnormal dryness. California has been in a state of drought for three years, and officials declared a state of emergency over the extreme lack of water in January. The final snow survey of the year, released May 1, revealed that the state’s snowpack is at only 18 percent of average for that date. The northern Sierra Nevadas were particularly hard hit, with only 7 percent of water content in the snowpack compared with the average. This Thursday, March 13, 2014 file photo shows cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir … Even worse, a survey from April 1, when snowpack moisture is at its peak, found only 32 percent of the water content compared with historical averages, according to California’s Department of Water Resources. As of April 25, the entire state of California was in some level of drought for the first time in the Drought Monitor’s 15-year history. Meanwhile, the state’s reservoirs are only at about half capacity, the Department of Water Resources warned, and the rainy season is largely over. New normal? Western droughts are part of the normal up-and-down of the landscape, but climate researchers warn that a parched West is likely to become more common as the globe warms. High temperatures make typical droughts worse, climate scientists say, and droughts have become more intense and longer in tropical and subtropical areas of the globe in the past 40 years. These changes threaten water supplies out West. They could also bring other nasty side effects, such as worsening wildfires. Western wildfires have become larger and more frequent in the last three decades, according to a study published online April 4 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Most of these trends show strong correlations with drought-related conditions, which, to a large degree, agree with what we expect from climate change projections,” Max Moritz, a study co-author and fire specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Cooperative Extension, told Live Science at the time.

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Ongoing drought The U.S. drought is concentrated in the Plains states and in the West, though Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Appalachians stretching from West Virginia into eastern Tennessee are all experiencing abnormal dryness. California has been in a state of drought for three years, and officials declared a state of emergency over the extreme lack of water in January. The final snow survey of the year, released May 1, revealed that the state’s snowpack is at only 18 percent of average for that date. The northern Sierra Nevadas were particularly hard hit, with only 7 percent of water content in the snowpack compared with the average.

Even worse, a survey from April 1, when snowpack moisture is at its peak, found only 32 percent of the water content compared with historical averages, according to California’s Department of Water Resources. As of April 25, the entire state of California was in some level of drought for the first time in the Drought Monitor’s 15-year history. Meanwhile, the state’s reservoirs are only at about half capacity, the Department of Water Resources warned, and the rainy season is largely over. New normal? Western droughts are part of the normal up-and-down of the landscape, but climate researchers warn that a parched West is likely to become more common as the globe warms. High temperatures make typical droughts worse, climate scientists say, and droughts have become more intense and longer in tropical and subtropical areas of the globe in the past 40 years. These changes threaten water supplies out West. They could also bring other nasty side effects, such as worsening wildfires. Western wildfires have become larger and more frequent in the last three decades, according to a study published online April 4 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Most of these trends show strong correlations with drought-related conditions, which, to a large degree, agree with what we expect from climate change projections,” Max Moritz, a study co-author and fire specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Cooperative Extension, told Live Science at the time.

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Grand Canyon runs low on water

Grand-Canyon-Runs-Dry-Drought

In this April 11, 2014 photo, low reservoir levels reveal tree stumps and a cracked lake bed in Williams, Ariz. Officials in Williams have declared a water crisis amid a drought that is quickly drying up nearby reservoirs and forcing the community to pump its only two wells to capacity.

In the northern Arizona city of Williams, restaurant patrons don’t automatically get a glass of water anymore. Residents caught watering lawns or washing cars with potable water can be fined. Businesses are hauling water from outside town to fill swimming pools, and building permits have been put on hold because there isn’t enough water to accommodate development.

Officials in the community about 60 miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim have clamped down on water use and declared a crisis amid a drought that is quickly drying up nearby reservoirs and forcing the city to pump its only two wells to capacity.

The situation offers a glimpse at how cities across the West are coping with a drought that has left them thirsting for water. More than a dozen rural towns in California recently emerged from emergency water restrictions that had a sheriff’s office on the lookout for water bandits at a local lake. One New Mexico town relied on bottled water for days last year. In southern Nevada, water customers are paid to remove lawns and cannot install any new grass in their front yards.

Officials in Williams jumped straight to the most severe restrictions after receiving only about 6 inches of precipitation from October to April — about half of normal levels — and a bleak forecast that doesn’t include much rain. City leaders acknowledge the move is extreme but say it’s the only way to make the city has enough water to survive.

“We knew we had to take some action to preserve the water,” Mayor John Moore said.

Reservoirs that supply residents’ taps are so low that they reveal tree stumps, plants and cracked earth once submerged by water.

Businesses are feeling the effects, too. The Grand Canyon Railway, which shuttles tourists from Williams to the national park, is using water recycled from rainfall, drained from a hotel pool and wastewater purchased in nearby Flagstaff to irrigate its landscaping and run steam engines.

Residents are praying they get some relief soon.

“I still have hope God will send us the rain,” said resident Jan Bardwell.

Communities across New Mexico also have seen their drinking water supplies dwindle in recent years due to severe drought and aging infrastructure. The town of Magdalena last summer was forced last summer to turn to bottled water after its well failed.

In the far western Texas city of El Paso, residents can’t water outdoors on Mondays. And officials have been reusing treated wastewater and investing in a major desalination plant that turns salty, unusable groundwater into a drinking source for the border city.

As Williams waits for moisture, Moore said city officials are exploring whether new wells will help secure a more sustainable water source. He said water conservation should take residents through the next couple of months until the rainy season arrives and winter returns.

In his home, Moore is taking shorter showers, flushing the toilet less often and thinking twice about dumping out water he doesn’t drink.

Other residents are using buckets to collect cold water that normally would go to waste while they wait for a hot shower, he said. Automatic shut-off devices are planned for showers at the city pool, and signs at water filling stations declare them off-limits to commercial water haulers.

Excessive water consumption could be costly under the restrictions. Residents using more than 15,000 gallons of water per month will see their bills rise by 150 percent to 200 percent. The penalty for using potable water outdoors for anything but public health or emergencies comes with a $100 surcharge that doubles for subsequent violations.

The Grand Canyon Railway poured tens of thousands of dollars into a landscape remodel last year that was watered with city taps. This year, the company had to gather that water from other sources, bringing in three rails cars to store it onsite.

It was a scenario that general manager Bob Baker didn’t see coming. “It’s drastic,” he said.

Other northern Arizona towns have less-stringent water restrictions. In Payson, residents are on a schedule for outdoor watering or washing cars. They are prohibited from putting in new grass and must choose from drought-tolerant plants for landscaping.

The goal for each person is to use no more than 89 gallons of water per day, but residents have averaged better than that at 70 to 75 gallons daily over the past decade, Mayor Kenny Evans said.

Water rates that increased decades ago allow the town to offer rebates for low-flow toilets and other water-saving devices. Payson has positioned itself well enough to extend water services to nearby communities while preaching conservation.

“We don’t have enough water to waste it,” said Evans, president of the Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.

In Williams, Moore recently looked out at the reservoirs surrounding town in anticipation of a monsoon season that could help replenish them.

“We know in due time, the lakes will fill back up, the snow will come,” he said.

Little help for a million Californians on wells in historic drought

FORT BRAGG, California (Reuters) – Michael Holmes got by at his rural home near California’s rugged northern coast on a disability pension and water from a decades-old well — until the well dried up.

Holmes, 65, is among an estimated million Californians who rely on private wells, many now threatened by the state’s historic dry spell and with no direct access to a multi-million dollar state drought relief program.

“When this place was built in the 1950s, the water was three feet below the ground,” Holmes said, pointing a flashlight down the well’s long, empty shaft. “Now, the pump is down 26 feet and we’re still running out.”

These days, Holmes buys drinking water by the gallon and waits until enough water gathers to take a shower once a week.

The pump hangs an inch off the ground at the bottom of his well, and when the water comes up, it’s full of muck and minerals.

“It turns my white hair yellow,” Holmes said, tilting his head down to show.

California is still counting the number of threatened wells, in the latest sign of how the state is struggling to address and even understand the extent of the worst drought in decades.

A state report released last week showed groundwater levels in California had dropped over the past three, dry years, but focused mostly on issues faced by municipal water systems and agriculture, not well-dependent homeowners.

Governor Jerry Brown declared an emergency in January in the most populous U.S. state, requesting voluntary conservation efforts, funneling millions of dollars to farmers and municipalities, and even providing funds to help farm workers idled by the drought buy food and pay rent.

In a state where the lack of water for irrigation threatens a half-million acres of farmland, and a rapidly shrinking snow pack means less drinking water for nearly 40 million people, help was rushed to those who live within the boundaries of even the smallest municipal water districts.

Even fish got help. As river waters receded, the state trucked 30 million hatchling salmon, a record, to ease their annual migration.

The $687 million drought relief package of grants, loans and other financial assistance programs to fund solutions such as water storage and recycling projects, anti-contamination efforts and emergency water supplies, was aimed at communities in need.

But the relief plan did not include funds targeted at helping those relying on private wells to dig deeper or make other improvements.

They are not considered part of the public delivery system, and finding relief for them is more complicated, said Debbie Davis, the governor’s drought liaison to counties.

Oversight of water systems in California is limited and fractured.

Counties are responsible for oversight of private wells, she added, and it wasn’t until homeowners started calling a drought hotline in Mendocino County seeking help that state officials realized there was an extensive problem.

“For the most part, domestic well users are expected to be responsible for their own resource,” said Davis, who estimated a million people depended on wells. A working group is tracking down well owners and assessing needs, said California Natural Resources Agency spokesman Richard Stapler.

About 10 miles south of Holmes’s home in Ft. Bragg, many wells are going dry in the tiny beachside village of Mendocino, whose 900 residents rely entirely on private wells, said Roger Schwartz, president of the village’s tiny water district.

One woman in Mendocino County called the drought hotline to say she needed water to bathe her disabled husband, who was incontinent, said Brandon Merritt, a county analyst. Another family said it could not afford the $350 a private dealer was charging for a month-long supply of water.

Schwartz, of the Mendocino Community Services District, has pushed the state to offer grants or loans to help residents purchase water or dig deeper wells.

But Davis said the state will focus first on helping those who can be hooked up to existing water systems.

Such efforts would likely not help Arthur “Mark” Fontaine and his wife Ellen. They estimate it would cost $20,000 to improve the well that serves their property, which lies four miles from the nearest town and is likely too far away to be hooked up to municipal water.

Since October, they have been buying water from a broker.

“We’ve always had to conserve here,” said Ellen Fontaine, who grew up on the property, about 24 miles from Willits. “But I have not been able to do laundry here for almost two months.”