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Published: Thursday, 1/30/2014

Rain and snow comes to dry Northern California, but not enough to ease drought

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Seventeen rural communities in drought-stricken California are in danger of running out of water within four months, according to a list compiled by state officials. Seventeen rural communities in drought-stricken California are in danger of running out of water within four months, according to a list compiled by state officials.
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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Northern California is finally getting wet weather after some areas have gone without measurable rain for weeks. But the precipitation won’t help much to ease the drought that plagued the region.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website predicted just 0.1 inch of rain in San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday. But more than 2 inches were expected in parts of Sacramento and as much as 2 feet of snow at higher elevations in the northern Sierra, where snow was falling on Thursday morning and drivers were required to have chains on their vehicles.

The San Francisco Bay Area has had only about 10-20 percent of the precipitation that it usually gets this time of year, said National Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson.

San Francisco International Airport normally has 11.35 inches by this point in the season, but it has had only 1.5 inches.

Santa Rosa Airport normally gets 20.71, but has had only 2.10 this season.

“So far, it’s been a very dry year. The last time we had measurable rain around the Bay Area was Dec. 7,” she said. “That is not what we think of as typical.”

More than 21 inches must fall by the end of the rainy season on June 30 — an unlikely prospect — for the region to get back to its normal levels, Henderson said.

“It would be nice if we got it,” she added, “but hopefully not all at once.”

Despite the storms expected to bring some snow to higher elevations this week, the Department of Water Resources expects to find far less snow than normal when it conducts it second survey of the winter Thursday.

President Barack Obama called California Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday to receive an update on the historic drought conditions and to reinforce his commitment to providing federal support to state and local efforts to lessen the impacts of the dry weather.

Brown, who declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17, will meet in Los Angeles with officials from throughout the state to discuss ways that Californians can conserve water.

Because of the drought, 17 rural California communities are now 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 (http://bit.ly/LmgFL2) 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.

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.



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