The city of Fort Bragg declared its highest-stage water emergency Wednesday, initiating tough rules that include an immediate ban on all outdoor watering and a requirement that restaurants use disposable dinnerware.

The Noyo River, which provides 30 percent of the city’s water, has become too salty to drink, a problem brought on by record-low river flows and acutely affected by the highest tide every month, said the city’s public works director, Tom Varga.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said.

Noyo River flows on Wednesday were at a record low 0.4 cubic feet per second, Varga said. That’s about half as much flow as the previous record low set during the drought of 1977, he said.

When the flows are that weak, they cannot adequately push back salty ocean water that flows into the river at high tide, Varga said. Salt readings at the water treatment plant overnight spiked, triggering an emergency meeting of the city council and its subsequent declaration of a stage three water emergency, he said.

The salt problem leaves Fort Bragg with two other, smaller sources, which also are low on water. That leaves the city about 250,000 gallons a day short of the 600,000 gallons it normally needs daily, Varga said.

The city already was in a stage one, largely voluntary conservation stage. Leaping to stage three takes many of the voluntary requirements and makes them mandatory.

The new rules include bans on watering landscaping and washing cars or any paved surfaces or buildings with city water. Other rules include:

*Restaurants may serve water only upon request. They also must use disposable plates, cups and flatware.

*All hospitality businesses, including restaurants and hotels, are asked to reduce water use and encouraged to launder sheets and towels on a limited basis.

*Any defective or leaking equipment or pipes must be repaired or turned off.

The water shortage situation could improve over the weekend, when the high tides weaken, but until it rains, water shortages will be ongoing, Varga said.

Water scofflaws could be subject to fines of as much as $500 for the first offense and have their water cut off if they persist in ignoring the regulations, Varga said.

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