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"It's dire and it's only getting worse": California tourist town running out of water amid drought

California town low on water as drought worsens
California town running low on water as drought worsens 02:05

The historic California town of Mendocino is running out of water and the reservoir it depends on is drying up amid a devastating drought in the state. 

"It's dire and it's only getting worse," said Ryan Rhoades, the town's groundwater manager. Rhoades said he's considering bringing in water by train. In the meantime, the local high school has offered some of its reserves, which is only one truckload of water per day. "That's the problem," he said.

More than 84% of California is experiencing extreme drought, where the current water supply is deemed inadequate for agriculture, wildlife, and urban needs, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. So far, this year has been the third driest year on record in terms of precipitation, and it comes after another remarkably dry year, according to Jay Lund, an environmental engineering professor at the University of California, Davis.  

Businesses in the coastal city Mendocino know the effects of California's historic drought all too well. 

Eric Hillesland, who runs the historic Alegria Inn situated in Mendocino Village, said he pays to truck in water so that guests at the hotel can shower. He said it costs $600 for 3,500 gallons of water, which lasts the inn for one week.

Mendocino, California Drought
This 2017 photo shows in Mendocino, California.  Getty

To conserve water, he said dirty dishwater is used to douse flowers. He also buys lightweight sheets for guest beds. "You can get more of them into one load of wash and you can cut your water use significantly," Hillesland said. 

Even waitresses are spreading the word about conservation, telling customers to only take what they can drink. Outside some businesses, port-a-potties have replaced closed restrooms in an effort to stop flushing away a precious resource. 

At Café Beaujolais in Mendocino, the dining room is empty three nights a week to save water. Owner Julian Lopez said he pays about $3,600 a month for water delivery. He said he can't get more water trucked in because "these towns on the coast are starting to shut off the sale of water." 

On Tuesday, California's Water Resources Control Board voted on an emergency resolution to restrict water access for thousands of farmers throughout parts of California in the Central Valley, which includes Mendocino. 

"Without this action, the drinking water supply for 25 million Californians and the irrigation supply for over 3 million acres of farmland could be at significant risk should the drought continue into next year," the board wrote. 

Lopez called Mendocino's reality frightening. "There's a scenario here where people will run out of water," he said.

Meanwhile, Lund, the professor, said water conservation is key in stopping the problem. He believes droughts like Mendocino's will provoke water systems throughout the state to "be better prepared."

"Every drought motivates bigger changes, bigger innovations in water management," Lund said. "To some degree, droughts are important for the political ecosystem. There'll be additional water conservation activities that are motivated by this kind of drought." 

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