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.

The secondary system also would be helpful should an earthquake disable the city's primary treatment plant, Madrigal said.

It also would have come in handy last summer, when the reservoirs became infested with foul-smelling algae, she said.

Cal Fire and the state Department of Corrections have provided inmate crews to help trench and install pipe for the new system, state health officials said.

The pipe installation is nearly complete, Madrigal said.

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