Willits faces water crisis; only 100-day supply left

The Mendocino County town of Willits is down to a 100-day supply of water and could run out altogether before summer arrives.
January 15, 2014 6:23:35 PM PST
The town of Willits in Mendocino County usually gets more than 50 inches of rainfall each year. This year, it's not even close. The city is down to a 100-day supply of water and could run out altogether before summer arrives.

The water now flowing into Centennial Reservoir, a major source of water for the small town of Willits, is just a trickle.

Willits city leaders announced they have about 100-days of water left; a number that's holding steady thanks to a huge conservation effort by the city's 5,000 residents.

"The message has gotten out to the community and they really have stepped up their conservation," Willits Mayor Holly Madrigal said. "So we actually have, since our last city council meeting, we have been saving 200,000 gallons out of the reservoir per day."

Still, this reservoir now sits at just 17 percent of capacity. There is dirt where the depth should be 40 feet. Centennial is almost to the point where city water managers can't pull any more out of it.

"We wouldn't want to take the water in this reservoir down much lower because we could create a fishkill which wouldn't give us good water quality," said Willits Water manager J.C. England.

Willits relies almost entirely on surface water, basically rainfall, to supply its two reservoirs. There's a spring and a few wells, but that's it. The emergency plan is to start pulling water from the wells and treating it to make it potable. As it is now, residential customers can use just 150 gallons a day. Commercial users must cut back by 35 percent.

The owner of this carwash is doing his part. He's shut down this automatic washer because it consumes about a third of his total water usage.

Crystal Car Wash owner Dennis Craighead says his other bays have actually been quite busy since residents are prohibited from washing their cars at home. But he worries about the future.

"Yeah, I might have to shut down," he said. "That's my livelihood and I won't have an income."

At the Brickhead Coffee House, plates have been replaced with paper.

"We go through a lot of dishes, typically, and we're required to fill our sinks with certain solutions, so switching to paper products has eliminated a lot of our use of water," said Farid Howard with Brickhouse Coffee House.

As it is now, the people of Willits have risen to the occasion, doing their part to keep water consumption low. But if Centennial Reservoir goes down much further, the difficult times could turn dire


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