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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.

Further exacerbating the problem is water theft, Costner said.

Thieves recently took 1,000 gallons of water from one of the district's hydrants. He suspects other thefts as well, but the agency's other hydrants do not have meters to measure the loss.

Costner urged area residents to report suspicious activities around hydrants to the water agency.

Similar thefts have been reported in Willits, where police are asking residents to keep watch. Water has become a hot commodity thanks to the drought and recent water rights curtailments by the state, they said.

"I would suspect this is going on all over," said Willits Police Chief Gerry Gonzalez.

Konocti district officials have not yet determined exactly how they will restrict their customers' water use but it could include limits on how much they can use and fines to enforce the cutbacks, Costner said.

Steps must be taken or the district could lose its ability to produce sufficient water for drinking, sanitation and firefighting, he said. Sanitation uses, such as flushing toilets, and firefighting are the priorities and don't require treatment, he said.

"If people don't conserve water, we'll reach a point where we cannot make potable water," Costner said. District customers would then be required to boil or purchase water for consumption.

Costner expects the district's directors will soon be declaring an emergency and implementing water restrictions.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com