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November 28, 2014

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17 California communities running low on water

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AP Photo/ Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Kent Porter

Hugh Beggs of Santa Rosa, Calif., searches for coins in the middle of the Russian River at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif., taking advantage of the way below normal river flow, Jan. 14, 2014.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Seventeen rural communities in drought-stricken California are in danger of a severe water shortage within four months, according to a list compiled by state officials.

Wells are running dry or reservoirs are nearly empty in some communities. Others have long-running problems that predate the drought.

The communities range from the area covered by the tiny Lompico County Water District in Santa Cruz County to the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County, the San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday.

Most of the districts, which serve from 39 to 11,000 residents, have too few customers to collect enough revenue to pay for backup water supplies or repair failing equipment, the newspaper reported.

A storm expected to drop light and moderate rains on Northern California on Wednesday and Thursday won't help much.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website is predicting just 0.1 inch of rain in San Francisco over the next two days and more than 2 inches in parts of Sacramento.

National Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson says the Bay Area has had only about 10 to 20 percent of the rain it usually gets by this time of year. More than 21 inches must fall by June 30 — an unlikely prospect — for the region to get back to its normal level of precipitation, Henderson said.

The list of vulnerable communities was compiled by the state health department based on a survey last week of the more than 3,000 water agencies in California.

"As the drought goes on, there will be more that probably show up on the list," said Dave Mazzera, acting drinking-water division chief for the state Department of Public Health.

State officials are discussing solutions such as trucking in water and providing funding to drill more wells or connect rural water systems to other water systems, Mazzera said.

Lompico County Water District, in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Felton, has just 500 customers and needs nearly $3 million in upgrades to its water system.

"We have been unable to take water out of the creek since August and well production is down, and we didn't have that much water to begin with," said Lois Henry, a Lompico water board member.

Henry said the district may soon have to truck in water.

In Cloverdale, where 9,000 get water from four wells, low flows in the Russian River have prompted the City Council to implement mandatory 25 percent rationing and ban lawn watering. The city raised water rates 50 percent to put in two new wells, which should be completed by July.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to get through the summer and the development of this project will pay off." City Manager Paul Caylor said.

Residents of urban areas for the most part have not felt the effects of the drought so far, but the percentage of Californians expressing concern about water shortages and the drought is at a record high, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Seven percent said water and the drought should be the top concern of the governor and state Legislature, but that sentiment was highest in the Central Valley, where 18 percent of respondents listed the drought as the top issue.

The economy, education and the state budget dominated the priorities of survey respondents, as they usually do.

Other areas on the state list of vulnerable communities include small water districts in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, Kern, Amador, Mendocino, Nevada and Placer counties.

President Barack Obama called Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday for an update on the drought.

The White House says Obama told Brown that the federal government will keep working to support California's response to the drought. Obama told the governor he was concerned about the impact of the drought on California's citizens, economy and environment.

The White House says the National Drought Resilience Partnership is coordinating the federal response. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Agriculture Department are involved in the effort.

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