Cities struggle as reservoirs dry up

  • City of Calistoga public works director Michael Kirn adds scale to Lake Lake Ghisolfo at Kimball Canyon Dam, Friday Jan. 3, 2014 in the hills above Calistoga, where the water supply in the reservoir has dwindled over the dry fall and continued dry winter. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

The City of Calistoga has pumped the last drop of drinking water it can from its main reservoir. No rain this winter would mean no water at all from behind the Kimball Dam next summer.

"We're offline," Public Works Director Mike Kirn said last week. "We haven't been taking water from Kimball because it's so low since the middle of October."

The reservoir is down to just about 10 percent of its capacity. The City Council has been asking residents for voluntary restrictions on water use since September, and Kirn may ask for more stringent measures later this month.

Calistoga is one of several municipalities in the area struggling to keep small local water systems functioning in the wake of a record dry year across most of the state. The city of Willits has fewer than 100 days worth of supply and is considering mandatory restrictions. Cloverdale is scrambling to draft an ordinance allowing mandatory restrictions in case the Sonoma County Water Agency is forced to continue cutting flows into the Russian River to preserve dwindling supply in Lake Mendocino.

Water systems throughout Sonoma County are preparing to roll out a coordinated water conservation campaign this week, unheard of during the winter months, in an effort to stretch out supply in Lake Sonoma, which has only about a year's worth of water left before the agency would need to begin rationing.

But unlike water systems in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, Calistoga and the other water systems in Napa County have a lifeline: a tie in to the State Water Project, the vast network of reservoirs, pipelines and canals that supplies water to 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.

A 26-mile pipeline connects to the project east of Fairfield and runs through the City of Napa system and provides water to Calistoga and St. Helena. It means that Napa Valley residents can be sure water will continue to flow even as the supply in their patchwork of local reservoirs dwindles.

"That's how I sleep at night," said Joy Eldredge, water general manager for the city of Napa. "We can withstand two or three years of drought based on our reserves -- that's what most agencies strive for."

Napa is entitled to almost 22,000 acre feet, or about 7.2 billion gallons, from the state every year. That, combined with water in Lake Hennessey and the smaller Milliken Reservoir, is more than sufficient to supply the city's needs, along with demand from St. Helena, which buys most of its water from Napa.

Likewise, in Calistoga, the city is entitled to 1,950 acre feet from the state, or 635 million gallons, to supplement the 300 acre feet usually contained behind the Kimball Dam.

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