Algae in Clear Lake likely to cause water shortage for some

A small water agency that pumps water from Clear Lake expects to declare a water shortage emergency as early as this week, not because it's running out of water but because thick algae growth is putting a strain on its purification system.

"The lake is worse than normal. Our treatment plant is having difficulty treating" the turbid, more alkaline water the algae causes, said Frank Costner, manager of the Konocti County Water District, which serves about 1,750 households at the south end of Clearlake. It's one of three water agencies serving the city of about 15,000. The others have not reported problems, likely because they're located where algae is less of a problem, Costner said.

The Konocti district's intake point is in an area that tends to be shallow, thus warmer, contributing to algae growth, he said.

The lake overall is more shallow than usual this summer because of the drought.

It is at one of its lowest levels in decades for this time of year, said Scott De Leon, director of Lake County's Water Resources Department. It's currently at 1.18 feet on the Rumsey gauge, a measurement based on a shoreline water mark. It dropped that low last year, but not until the fall, De Leon said.

The Konocti water district also is facing higher than usual water demand, possibly because of marijuana cultivation, Costner said.

"There's a lot of gardens," he said.

The normal demand for early summer is about 500,000 gallons a day but he's already seeing usage spikes of up to 690,000 gallons a day.

"It seems we have a lot of high-end users that are using more than their fair share," Costner said.

Under the best of conditions, minus the algae, the Konocti district facility can treat a maximum of 750,000 gallons a day. With thick algae, the daily maximum declines to about 500,000 gallons, he said.

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