Sales of water storage tanks have spiked on the North Coast as rural residents, already faced with declining wells, springs and reservoirs, brace for what could be another drought year.
"They're hoarding water," said Rich Hutchison, a plumbing and electrical buyer for Friedman's home improvement stores.
Water storage tank sales increased by about 40 percent at Friedman's stores in December, he said. The Ukiah store alone sold 20 tanks in December, a 50 percent increase from the same time last year, Hutchison said.
The store carries tanks that range in size from 500 gallons to 5,000 gallons and cost from $369 to $2,899. Its best seller is a 2,500 gallon tank, Hutchison said.
At the Tank Depot store near Ukiah, sales increased by about 30 percent in December, said sales representative Aaron York.
"We've sold 30 tanks in the last two weeks," he said.
The Ukiah Friedman's store typically sells more water storage tanks than does the company's Sonoma County stores, Hutchison said.
Sales normally are highest during the summer months, when marijuana growing is in full swing, he said. Summer tank sales have been as high as 127 a month, Hutchison said.
Pot growers have been known to illegally tap into streams and steal water for their crops, according to police and environmental officials.
Agricultural officials fear water thefts may increase if the drought continues.