California Town Could Run Out Of Water Soon

Apr 28, 2014
Originally published on April 28, 2014 2:47 pm

Sporadic rainfall this month is bringing some relief to drought-stricken California. But it’s water conservation efforts that are helping some communities cope with the historic drought.

The number of towns and communities at risk of running out of water in California has dropped from 17 to just three. But there’s a new entry — the rural town of Montague in Northern California.

Chris Tyhurst is water supervisor in Montague, and tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about the measures they’re taking to deal with the lack of water.


  • Chris Tyhurst, water supervisor in Montague, Calif.
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It's HERE AND NOW, and when I look at a weather forecast and see nothing but sunshine, it makes me happy - probably not the case for residents of California, who are looking at a forecast like that right now. The drought there is considered, now, moderate to extreme across the entire state, and some towns are at risk of running out of water, including Montague in Northern California.

Chris Tyhurst is water supervisor there, and Chris, what's your best guess on when the city won't have any more water?

CHRIS TYHURST: Probably around August 1 is our best guess right now. It just depends on how much people conserve and how much evaporation takes place. You know, if it's 100 degrees every day, it evaporates a lot quicker than it does at 80, so...

HOBSON: Well, what does most of your water get used for?

TYHURST: Mostly irrigation, just like any other rural community: lawns and shrubs, and kids playing and that sort of stuff.

HOBSON: Well, so how much of that can be curtailed this summer or in the next couple of months to try and hold on to as much water as you can?

TYHURST: Well, we ask everybody to try and maintain at least winter use, if not more conservative. So for instance instead of having - using 500,000 gallons a day, we might use 100,000 gallons a day, that kind of conservation effort.

HOBSON: And how much of a sacrifice is that for people?

TYHURST: Well, all their lawns are going to dry up.


TYHURST: You know, bushes are going to die, stuff like that. We're hoping that like when you wash your hands, there's a little bit of water while you're waiting for your water to warm up before you stick your hand in, if you can save that water, put it in a five-gallon bucket, take it outside and water your favorite fruit tree, you know, that they'll get by. But probably everybody's lawn's going to die at the very least.

HOBSON: As you have looked over the city's water use, as the drought has intensified, have you seen a lot of water that you think wow, we are really wasting a lot of water?

TYHURST: Sometimes. You know, if you look at last summer, as opposed to, you know, a normal spring, summer time, I would guess so, yeah. The biggest thing is water - outside water use. You know, all the city parks are going to go dry this year. We aren't going to water them. I don't know. You know, on an individual basis, everybody operates a little differently, and you certainly see - it's a lot easier to see your neighbor's problems than it is your own. So that's how it works with just about everything.

HOBSON: Well, tell us what happens if the city does run out of water this summer.

TYHURST: Oh, well, right now we have a pipeline project that we're trying to put together and get in place in two months that would normally take probably three or four years to do. So - and if we can get through that - over that hurdle and get things going, we'll have a pipeline in that will provide water before we run out.

If we do run out, we've got some contingency plans for bottled water and trucked-in water where people would have to come down with their five-gallon buckets and collect it out of the back of a truck and haul it home.

HOBSON: Do you think people are going to move out of town?

TYHURST: Oh, it certainly hasn't helped. They - Montague is kind of a lower-income, rural community in the first place. We've been impacted hard by the shutdown of timber, the timber industry in the area, and there's no work - not a lot of work around. And so they're leaving the area anyway, and that's just one more reason to do that, you know.

HOBSON: We think of the name Montague as, of course, the House of Montague in "Romeo and Juliet." It does seem like you're in the middle of what could turn into quite a tragedy there in Montague, California.

TYHURST: Well, I don't know if tragedy is the right word but a difficult situation for a few months, yeah. But, you know, people have gone through much worse. I mean, we're a whole lot better than any third world country, you know.


TYHURST: You look at what they have to deal with.

HOBSON: Chris Tyhurst, water supervisor in the city of Montague in Northern California, which is facing a real water emergency right now, but hopefully there will be some rain, Chris. That would be the ultimate win for you.

TYHURST: Well, we'd have to have an awful lot of rain at this point. The mountains don't have much snow on them, and that's where a lot of the summer inflow to Lake Shastina comes from, and that's just not going to be there this year.

HOBSON: Well Chris, best of luck.

TYHURST: All right, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.