Yolo County Issues Warning Due to ‘Exceptional Drought Conditions’

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – While California is used to a cycle of drought, floods, and fires, this drought is exceptional and, while it has largely been an inconvenience to larger cities, experts are warning that a growing number of communities are facing threats to water supplies.

The Mercury News reported on Friday that “it is already imperiling an alarming number of communities, especially between the Bay Area and the Oregon border, threatening the water supplies for more than 130,000 people.”

Moreover, “The severe shortages are not just in small towns and rural hamlets that rely on one or two wells or streams that have run dry. Larger towns, with their own reservoirs and water departments, are in trouble too.”

As a result, Yolo County has issued an emergency proclamation due to exceptional drought conditions in the unincorporated areas of the county and urges all residents and businesses throughout the county to immediately begin conserving water.

“Due to little rainfall, historically dry conditions, and exceptionally warm temperatures in April and May, Yolo County is in an ‘exceptional drought,’ characterized by dry wells, depleted reservoirs, and nearly dry surface water leading to insufficient water for agriculture, wildlife, and urban needs,” the county reported in a release on Thursday.

In an exceptional drought, the county explains, “water quality decreases along water supply and fire season lasts year-round while increasing in intensity, threatening drinking water, irrigation supplies, wildlife habitat, and agricultural economic activity.

“The severity of the drought in Yolo County highlights the need to take simple actions to conserve water to ensure sustainable water supplies,” said Chair of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors Jim Provenza. “As a community effort, we ask that residents do what they can to conserve water.”

In May, Governor Gavin Newsom added 41 counties, including Yolo County, to the State’s drought emergency list that was first announced in April. In July, the governor signed an Executive Order, which expanded the drought emergency list to include 50 of California’s 58 counties and called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels.

The issuance of a local emergency proclamation will allow Yolo County to set rules, regulations and other mandates as deemed necessary to reduce water usage during this emergency to protect the safety of persons and property within the unincorporated areas of Yolo County.

In conditions of exceptional drought, it is more important than ever for residents to do their part to help conserve water in what is a collective effort to protect a vital and increasingly scarce resource. Simple actions, such as taking shorter showers, turning water off when brushing teeth, only washing full loads of clothes and dishes, and replacing lawns with native water-wise plants can save hundreds of gallons of water every day per household.

The Mercury News identified a number of systems in trouble including: Northern California towns like Ukiah, Lakeport, Bolinas, Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Fort Bragg.

“This is going to be a long, hot dry summer,” said Dan Newton, assistant deputy director of the board’s Division of Drinking Water. “Throw fires in on top of that with stressed water systems, and it is going to be really difficult for some systems to survive.”

“It’s extremely serious,” said Fort Bragg Mayor Bernie Norvell. “I’ve lived here all my life, 51 years, and I haven’t seen anything like this.”

So serious that the town voted last month to buy an emergency desalination system to keep the town of 7,500 people from running out of water.

The problem right now is the main water supply, the Noyo River, normally flowing from the redwood forests to the ocean, is just two inches deep in some places, “the lowest flows recorded since measurements began in the 1950s.”  Worse yet, “When tides come in, salt water is pushed up river near intake pipes, putting the city’s water supply at risk.”

They hope to have the equipment up and running to purify salt water by October.

“We’re hoping we can limp along until this thing gets here,” Norvell said.

What happens statewide if California suffers another low rainfall season like the last?

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    The good news is that if there is no water, there is no need to build more dams to store water, as there is no water to store.  This may finally put to rest the insane idea of flooding Sites Valley to pump Sacramento River water uphill for storage and evaporation.  With no water, there’s nothing to store.  Save Sites Valley!

  2. Alan Miller

    This could also be the cure for our housing crisis.  With towns running out of water, people will be fleeing California en masse, leaving houses vacant and allowing prices to plunge.  This is what is known as a silver lining.  Of course, you’ll be buying your water in bottles from Canada and Mexico, but what the hay. Maybe finally put an end to the American lawn, and agriculture and trees and all those pesky things that depend on water. Problems solved.

    1. Ron Oertel

      This could also be the cure for our housing crisis.

      Nah – the builders and politicians just ignore that.  (See Folsom, for example.)  Instead, they’ll just ask you to conserve more.

      “Flush twice, prevent sprawl”.  🙂

      Of course, you’ll be buying your water in bottles from Canada and Mexico, but what the hay.

      There won’t be any “hay” either, as noted in your next comment.

      Maybe finally put an end to the American lawn, and agriculture and trees and all those pesky things that depend on water.

       

  3. Ron Oertel

    The only thing that creates more risk for fires than a low-rainfall year is a high-rainfall year, as the latter causes burnable plants to grow more before the inevitable summer/fall dry-out.

    And don’t get me started about “average” year fire risk.

    But sure – bury all the PG&E lines (and charge that cost to others not in those high-risk zones), as that will “solve” the problem. As long as there’s no lightning or fires caused by other sources.

    Make sure that you also spread-out the insurance cost to others, as well.

    🙂

  4. Rick Entrikin

    “What happens statewide if California suffers another low rainfall season like the last?”

    This would have been easier to answer if it were a multiple-choice question.  Since it’s in The Vnguard, though, there’s probably only one correct answer: Build with more housing (and maybe some complementary wet labs).

     

  5. Don Shor

    What happens statewide if California suffers another low rainfall season like the last?

    Depends on which of the thousands of agencies/water districts/private contractors provides your water and where they draw it from. Davis is presently shifted back to deep wells for about 70% of our water, river water is providing the balance, and we still have the shallower wells available. The deep wells aren’t directly tied to current rainfall levels.

    Residents of Solano County largely rely on water from Lake Berryessa or local wells. Berryessa is down about 40′, which is not at all unusual; it hasn’t reached the low levels of previous droughts (record low was in the 1988-92 drought).

    The issue in Yolo County is ag wells that are threatened, Indian Valley reservoir failing to provide water to local farmers this year, and a current emergency in Wild Wings subdivision. The unincorporated developments like Wild Wings (and North Davis Meadows, and El Macero and Willowbank, etc.) are going to be increasingly problematic.

    If you were choosing a place to live for drought resilience of the water supply, Davis would be a good choice and Solano County would be even better.

    Sites Reservoir, which is on track for about 2030, would stabilize water supplies for both ag users and the Delta. It would actually be almost as big in terms of water storage as Lake Berryessa.

    1. Ron Oertel

      If you were choosing a place to live for drought resilience of the water supply, Davis would be a good choice and Solano County would be even better.

      Great – sounds like there’s no need to conserve in those places.

      And can also probably build lots more houses, to take up the “slack”.

      The deep wells aren’t directly tied to current rainfall levels.

      They are tied to “something”.

      Also, is the ability to take water from the Sacramento river unlimited?

      1. Don Shor

        Also, is the ability to take water from the Sacramento river unlimited?

        The city has significant water rights to Sacramento River water but those have been partially superceded by the federal government’s Shasta Critical Year designation. That is why the city has shifted from about 70% surface (river) water to about 70% groundwater for the time being.

        They are tied to “something”.

        The deep wells recharge but it is not from current rainfall or snow pack. It appears to be lateral movement of water. The lack of a radium isotope in the tested water tells us that the water predates at least WWII, when atomic weapons testing laid down a marker that can be tested for any water that has passed through soil. Originally when I studied soil science, our professor said it was prehistoric water. During the debate about the shift to river water it was suggested that this aquifer is recharged by lateral movement of older water.
        If there ever is a problem with those deeper wells, we still have a couple of dozen working wells that pump from shallower aquifers. Those were proving vulnerable to overpumping as evidenced by subsidence of the soil near Zamora. That was one of the arguments we made for shifting to the river water for a majority of the city’s water. The water from the shallower wells was just on the verge of violating the increasingly tight water quality standards, related to pollution of the Delta. So it would likely require an emergency to return fully to those shallower wells. But it would likely never be necessary because of the present balanced mix of water supplies. Those wells can augment the current mix of water if necessary and I believe the city actually uses some of those wells from time to time.

        1. Alan Miller

          Those were proving vulnerable to overpumping as evidenced by subsidence of the soil near Zamora.

          Would anyone really care if Zamora sunk into the soil and disappeared?

          1. Don Shor

            Would anyone really care if Zamora sunk into the soil and disappeared?

            Subsidence results in a permanent loss of groundwater storage.

        2. Alan Miller

          Yes it does, because the soil matrix in the formation the aquifer sits in collapses and the formerly open spaces permanently become much smaller, en masse causing the subsidence.

          Zamora isn’t groundwater storage.

    2. Alan Miller

      Sites Reservoir, which is on track for about 2030, would stabilize water supplies for both ag users and the Delta.

      Sites is going to be dry if there is a continuing drought.  Almost all the water for Sites has to pumped uphill for storage, yet they claim they are producing electricity – yes – a net loss.  Sites floods a beautiful valley – aren’t we done doing that?  Maybe there are just too many people, and too many almond trees.  Also, surface water storage is passé.  Ground water storage is where it’s at, and no evaporation.  Do the groundwater storage dance!  “Cement Mixer” Garamendi and his friends a Teichert love this project (Boo!).  Stabilize, smabilize.

      1. Don Shor

        Sites is going to be dry if there is a continuing drought.

        Sites will be filled when there are wet years. There will be wet years.

        Sites floods a beautiful valley – aren’t we done doing that?

        Been there. The land owners there apparently don’t have any problem with this project, so I don’t see why it’s really any of your business.

        Maybe there are just too many people, and too many almond trees.

        Cling peaches and high-density walnuts take just as much water as almonds. Alfalfa takes way more.

        Also, surface water storage is passé.

        Lakes have huge environmental benefits.

        1. Alan Miller

          Sites is going to be dry if there is a continuing drought.

          Sites will be filled when there are wet years. There will be wet years.

          > Someday

          Sites floods a beautiful valley – aren’t we done doing that?

          Been there.

          > Also been there.

          The land owners there apparently don’t have any problem with this project,

          > Yes, we all know about the outspoken Mary Wells.  Her family will benefit handsomely from the taxpayer compensation for their 5th generation family land.  Not all the landowners are so thrilled.

          so I don’t see why it’s really any of your business.

          > The public policy of flooding huge areas of land and the failed practices of the years of dams and reservoirs to salmon and other populations is the business of any environmentalist.  The effects of yet another reservoir reach far beyond the basin land owners.

          Maybe there are just too many people, and too many almond trees.

          Cling peaches and high-density walnuts take just as much water as almonds. Alfalfa takes way more.

          > Almond was a example – I didn’t know I had to name all the water-guzzling crops to pass the quiz.

          Also, surface water storage is passé.

          Lakes have huge environmental benefits.

          > What kind of a statement is that?  Man-made lakes denude huge tracts of land, and are ugly as F when the water recedes (like the current era).  All that habitat – gone.  All those trees – gone.  Pouring massive concrete into a canyon has environmental benefits.  And in the case of Sites – several ‘saddle dams’ in addition to fill gaps between hills that are too low to fill the reservoir as high as the ag industry wants.

          And yes, there is massive evaporation, and groundwater storage helps preserve the carrying capacity of aquifers that would otherwise collapse by keeping water in the f0rmations.

      2. Ron Oertel

        I see that Alan responded to Don’s comment, but I’ll go ahead and add my two cents, as well.

        The land owners there apparently don’t have any problem with this project, so I don’t see why it’s really any of your business.

        Financial benefit does have a way of making things seem like a “good idea”.  I’ve heard it said that if you scratch a farmer, you might find a developer underneath.

        But as far as it being “any of your business”, can’t the same be said regarding concerns related to proposed changes to zoning (in a city, or outside of a city), or if a hospital wants to cut down all of its trees in its own parking lot, for example?

        Lakes have huge environmental benefits.

        The Sierra Club (which knows a thing or two about the environment) has significant concerns regarding the impacts from creating this artificial “lake”.
         

  6. Ron Oertel

    FYI:  “Stop the Sites Reservoir”

    https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/sce/mother-lode-chapter/Sites%20DEIR%20Alert%20-%20Due%201.15.18.pdf

    https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/sce/tehipite-chapter/fact-sheets/nodos_map_fact_sheet_7-20112.pdf

    Why are taxpayers (who wouldn’t benefit from it) paying for this, in the first place? Was it tied to some phony, combination bond measure (e.g., “ensure safe water for our children and benefit the environment”)?

    The manner in which they make sausage is preferable to the process in which bond measures arise, these days.

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