As Drought Worsens, California Communities Scramble to Find Water

The drought in California is on the verge of becoming a crisis as dozens of communities in the state are reporting they’re on the verge of running out of water. Some say they’ll have no water in as little as 60 days.

Many of the communities that are at the crisis point are small and isolated, according to Tim Quinn, of the Association of California Water Agencies. Such communities often rely on one water source, without backups, to provide for their customers. Quinn warns, however, that even more sophisticated water districts may find themselves in such trouble next year.

Currently, 14 communities are on the “critical list,” meaning that they’ve informed the state that they’ve reached a point where they don’t believe that they will have adequate public water within the next two months. Some of these communities have turned to trucking in water for now while they look for long-term solutions to the drought’s impact on their water systems.

But other communities, which were at risk of running out of water, have staved off the worst, for now, by drilling new wells, building storage tanks and integrating water systems.

One such community is, Montague, in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border. In April, it was one of the first municipalities in the state to enact water restrictions. Officials in the town of 1,443, which had not had a water shortage in more than 80 years, warned that they were in danger of running out of water by the end of the summer.

Montague turned to sprinkling its reservoir with a fine white powder made of palm oil and hydrated lime. The powder is said to form a “monolayer” at the water’s surface, which is supposed to slow evaporation. To spread the powder, called WaterSavr, across the water’s surface, the town used a flour sifter connected to a long pole. The product is approved for water treatment by the National Sanitation Foundation.

Montague also built a pump and a water pipeline to bring water from nearby wells to residents homes. Working with state and federal agencies, Montague built a pipeline that pumped water from wells near Lake Shastina into the Shasta River and then into residents' homes, said Chris Tyhurst, Montague's water supervisor.

"The good thing about the project is that it solves long-term problems as well as this year's," Chris Tyhurst, Montague’s water supervisor told the Los Angeles Times.

Tyhurst told KQED Public Radio that had these changes not been implemented, the town could have turned to having water trucked in to pressurize the system, which would have been restrictively expensive for the tiny community. It would have taken some 30 truckloads of water per day — at 3,500 gallons per truck — to keep the town hydrated, said Tyhurst.

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