Even though the village of Mendocino is surrounded on three sides by water, none of it is drinkable because it’s salt water in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike most towns in the country, the village does not have a water system — virtually all of the residents and businesses in town draw their water from wells, and the aquifer is running low. It’s always running low by this time of the year, since it gets recharged each year by the rains that we get from November through the spring. All those wells are like a bunch of straws sipping from the same drink, and we’re running very low this year because we only got 75% of the normal rainfall last season (a mere 30 inches instead of 42 inches on average).
Accordingly, the Mendocino City Community Services District is now asking residents to voluntarily reduce consumption by 10%. Mike Kelley, MCCSD superintendent, has asked for the reduction because “we’re completely dependent on the previous year’s rainfall for our next year’s ground water supply.”
According to the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, officials in Fort Bragg (9 miles north) feel no need to request conservation, since they have a plentiful water supply from the Noyo River. One inaccuracy in the article is the statement that there is no river to help recharge the aquifer. If you look at the right side of the picture, you’ll see a very large river, Big River. It could have been used to supply drinking water for the town if people had planned ahead, but a friend told me that efforts to investigate the possibility years ago were unsuccessful. It would have taken money and will, both of which were in short supply. Since a huge chunk of the Big River watershed was donated to the State Parks system a few years ago, the likelihood of using it as a water source is even less now. The town is a golden goose for the county, generating a significant chunk of Transient Occupancy Tax for the county, which is forced to spread the money around this huge (3500 square miles) but poor county. Residents have long complained that not much comes back in the way of services. Of course, everything that happens in Mendocino is politically charged, and I’m sure this was the same. There are people who resent the growth of the tourist industry, and they felt that having a water system would open the floodgates of tourism.
Mike Kelley once told me that studies show there would be sufficient water in the aquifer to supply the town if the extraction was entirely controlled by official pumps. But doing that would require money and political will, and it seems unlikely. (Cynicism alert: It would also be different than before, and hence bad in the minds of some people.) Because the village is unincorporated, all money decisions are controlled by the Board of Supervisors, and it seems that most of the supervisors only care about Mendocino to the extent that the bed tax revenues are flowing in.
So if you’re coming to visit the town in the next few months, expect to have to ask for water in restaurants. I’d also recommend showering with a friend, but I also recommend that anytime. 🙂