State grant approved to help drought-stricken Willits

Drought-stricken Willits is $250,000 closer to establishing an emergency water supply.

The California Department of Public Health announced Monday it has approved a grant for the northern Mendocino County city of about 5,000, which is among the hardest hit by drought conditions, health officials said.

Willits City Manager Adrienne Moore called it "very good news."

The city needs an estimated $1.8 million to complete the emergency water project, which includes installing pipe and a small, secondary water treatment facility.

Willits is hoping it also will be successful in its application for a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Moore said. City officials seek additional grant funding but may need to utilize no- or low-income loans, she said.

"We are hoping to end up with more grant funding," Moore said.

The city relies on two reservoirs south of town but they've become critically low on water. With strict conservation efforts, the city has been able to maintain an estimated 100 days of water in the reservoirs.

The recent rains have alleviated the water shortfall, but it's not enough to call off water conservation efforts or creation of the backup water system, Willits Mayor Holly Madrigal said.

"It sounds like it's not enough to solve our problems," she said. Willits received a little more than 6 inches of rain during the recent storms, Madrigal said.

City officials explored a number of emergency water options and determined it was most feasible to improve two city wells that had been used for irrigation. The wells, however, are across town and downhill from the city's existing water treatment plant, requiring another, small treatment facility.

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