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California Drought: 17 Communities on the Critical List

, KQED Science | January 29, 2014 | 1 Comment
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Almaden Reservoir in San Jose is owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a large water supplier, and not one of the ones currently in trouble. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Almaden Reservoir in San Jose is owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a large water supplier, and not one of the ones currently in trouble. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The scant amounts of rain and snow that finally infiltrated Northern California this week will put barely a dent in the ongoing drought. Now, 17 communities in California are at risk of running out of water within one to four months, according to the California Department of Public Health.

KQED Science managing editor and San Jose Mercury News reporter Paul Rogers described the problem in the Merc:

In some communities, wells are running dry. In others, reservoirs are nearly empty. Some have long-running problems that predate the drought.

The water systems, all in rural areas, serve from 39 to 11,000 residents. They range from the tiny Lompico County Water District in Santa Cruz County to districts that serve the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County.

‘I expect if the drought continues, we will see more small areas getting in trouble and needing help.’

“These little districts with the small number of ratepayers don’t have a safety net,” Rogers told The California Report’s Scott Shafer. “Many of them were vulnerable to begin with.”

Unlike big urban water agencies such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Santa Clara Valley Water District and East Bay Municipal Utility District, smaller water districts don’t have the resources to build new reservoirs and manage water conservation programs.

And so while some of the large districts with water banked in big reservoirs are asking for voluntary cutbacks — 10 percent in San Francisco and the Peninsula, for instance, and 20 percent in Alameda County — Rogers said these 17 small districts will be looking at more drastic solutions: new pipelines, trucking in water, drilling new wells or bringing in mobile desalination plants.

As the drought drags on, they may not be the only ones. “I expect if the drought continues, we will see more small areas getting in trouble and needing help,” Rogers said. “When we talk about who’s going to suffer the most, it’s small, rural communities without money and it’s farmers and ranchers who need the water the most for their economics.”

While we may get, oh, another tenth of an inch or so of rain in today’s weather system, the National Weather Service is forecasting more dry weather on the horizon.

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About the Author ()

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.
  • mariana colbert

    Truly Californians need to start imagining the consequences if the drought continues, and start conserving water. We all love Las Vegas and golf I’m sure, but places that waste huge resources of water for entertainment should be boycotted. Agriculture is struggling but the industry has a reputation for pollution and waste on a grand scale. Californians, be prepared for much higher food prices, like higher prices for veggies and wine.