Fort Bragg Loses 30% of Water, Tells Restaurants to Use Disposable Plates and Utensils

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The city of Fort Bragg in California, after losing a key water source, has ordered a halt to all outdoor watering and told restaurants in the tourist town they have to use disposable plates, cups and flatware. (The city is not to be confused with Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a focal point for assistance to victims of record flooding.)

The Northern California town, 15 miles from Mendocino, lost 30% of its water supply in a hurry when the low flow of the Noyo River caused a spike in salt content from ocean water backup. That made it unusable, so the city ordered a leap from a largely voluntary Stage 1 Water Emergency to Stage 3.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Fort Bragg Public Works Director Tom Varga told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The San Francisco Chronicle said the response from restaurants was not pleasant and the city council might reconsider the new rules next week. “You might be able to cut a filet mignon with a plastic knife, but you are not going to cut a New York,” local restaurateur Jim Hurst told the paper. “The expense is going to be horrendous, I would expect.”  

The city (pop. 7,250) only has two water supplies left, Newman Gulch and Waterfall Gulch. Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde told the Anderson Valley Advertiser in January 2014, “In the wettest of times, Fort Bragg's ingenious water system is a struggle.” The three-stage emergency order was already poised for use back then.

Stage 3 also bans washing cars, watering landscaped areas, washing down paved areas or building exteriors and serving water in restaurants that hasn’t been requested. The aim is to cut water use by 30% over last year.

Varga told residents that things could get a bit yucky.

“The City’s Water Treatment operators have found it necessary to use source water that is ordinarily avoided at this time of year due to dissolved solids and brackish taste. While this water is fully compliant with all health standards and is safe to drink; taste, odor, and appearance may be affected.”

People with medical conditions requiring low salt in their diet were told to use bottled water.

A grand jury review (pdf) of the “City of Fort Bragg Water Enterprise” in 2008 was generally favorable and optimistic. “Most of the concerns” had to do with “scarce financial resources and deferred maintenance of an aging system,” not running out of water.

But the grand jury’s report did warn that “providing an adequate supply of potable water will be an on-going challenge” and “end users can anticipate continuing pressure to conserve water.”

“They would be well advised to plan for mandatory rationing during periods of drought,” the report said.   

Plans for constructing a 45-acre storage pond near Newman Gulch have not come to fruition and an offer to purchase property in the watershed for the purpose of sinking a well never went anywhere.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:  

Fort Bragg Declares Highest-Stage Water Emergency (by Glenda Anderson, Santa Rosa Press Democrat)

Fort Bragg Orders Restaurants to Use Disposable Plates, Cups (by Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle)

Stage 3 Water Emergency Declared (City of Fort Bragg)

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