Waterless Willow Creek

The disastrous and historic California drought has claimed another innocent victim - Willow Creek.

The North Fork of Willow Creek, that feeds the west end of Bass Lake, and is the primary source of water for the community’s primary water system, has gone completely dry for the first time that any records show, forcing the Bass Lake Water Company to have water hauled-in to supplement the company’s stored water reserves - another ‘first’ for Bass Lake.

Even in September 1977, during the last major statewide drought, Willow Creek maintained a small flow of water.

The company’s water rights to divert surface water from the north fork of Willow Creek for domestic use dates back to 1923, but due to the drought pre-1914 rights supersedes those rights. However, the Bass Lake Water Company was given an exemption due to the health and safety of the community and was able to continue drawing water from the creek.

Steve Welch, president of the Bass Lake Water Co. said that due to the unavailability of any Willow Creek surface water, the company is now relying only on its four groundwater wells - wells that can produce about 200,000 gallons of water per day when they are all running 16 hours a day - the same amount used daily by the nearly 1,000 connections to the system.

“However, our reserves were at a lower level than what we felt comfortable with so we arranged, with state approval, to have a certified water hauler (Beezak) bring in potable water to the system to supplement our well sources and hopefully restore some of our back-up supply.” Welch said.

During a ‘normal’ year, the company’s reserve of water is at 90% of full capacity during winter and summer. The available storage got as low as 33% on Aug. 18, and is currently at 48% due to the outside water deliveries. The 48% represents about a three day supply for customers.

“Our goal is to get up to at least 75% of capacity,” Welch said.

By this Saturday, Beezak, a Mariposa company, will have made more than 30 truck deliveries with more than 200,000 gallons of water to water system since Aug. 17. Each delivery costs $200.

Welch said the company plans to continue with weekly water deliveries between 40-80,000 gallons until the end of September or until Willow Creek resumes flow.

Welch remains optimistic that between the company’s wells and water from Beezak, the company will be able to supply the needed water to the community.

“This is so far the driest four-year period on record at Bass Lake dating back to 1903 when rainfall records were first available,” Welch said. “Our main priority is to provide safe domestic drinking water for inside use, and maintain our storage tanks for any fire emergency. We hope the community continues to respond to this situation brought on by this very severe drought. We are doing everything possible to treat, store, and deliver water to our households and businesses.”

Welch feels with conservation measures in place and the seasonal decline in demand as the end of the summer season nears, the company will be able to meet the reduced demand.

Last weekend Jason and Jeny Carpenter, of Huntington Beach, made their first visit to Bass Lake with their two boys, Jeremy and Joshua, were surprised to find Willow Creek dry.

“I didn’t know what to expect because I have never been to this side of the Sierras,” Jason said. “I did know that just being out anywhere in the Sierras was going to be a great time. After seeing all the pictures of Angel Falls and Devils Slide, I knew that was a hike I wanted to take my family on. I figured the water wasn’t going to be as full, but I never imagined it would be completely empty. But, even with no water flowing it was an amazing hike that showed us how the water has shaped the rocks over time. All the deep holes carved out in the rocks was beyond belief.”

Jason said after the hike he explained to his sons that even though they didn’t get to see any water flowing in Willow Creek, they were lucky to be some of the few people to see the creek bone dry because that has never happened before.

Compliance Order still in effect

In October 2014, the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Water issued a Compliance Order to the water company that due to the drought and the resulting limited supply of water, the company was in violation of the California Health and Safety Code. The division determined not enough water was available from Willow Creek, and for that reason, a determination was made that the company does not have a reliable supply of water to serve its customers.

The Compliance Order did not require the company to cease using water from Willow Creek, but did require the company to prevent any new service connections and to secure a reliable long-term supply of water. The company expects to be under the order until the drought ends.

The company was also instructed to provide an extensive Source Capacity Planning Study, including the anticipated growth of the water company, estimates of the amount of water needed to meet demand, and the calculated amount of water the company can expect from Willow Creek, wells, and other sources. That study has been provided to the state and is under review.

The order also asked the company for a schedule for the installation of meters on all residential connections. The company has requested a grant from the state to assist with the installation of meters, but the request is still pending.

Customers asked to conserve

Bass Lake Water Co. notified its customers in early July of mandatory Stage 3 Water Conservation Rules due to the low flow in Willow Creek at the time - a notification that came about seven weeks sooner than the Stage 3 notification in 2014.

Stage 3 rules prohibit all outside watering including landscaping, or the washing of vehicles, boats, trailers, patios, decks and docks.

The company was reluctant to impose the Stage 3 restrictions, but it became necessary when the Willow Creek stream flow rapidly declined, to a little less than half the flow needed to meet normal demand that time of year.

In addition, the water company and its users met Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 1 executive order to reduce water use this year by 25% compared to 2013 consumption, between June 1 and Nov. 30.

According to Welch, this past June, the first month the order took affect, the community reduced its water consumption by 26.5% from June, 2013 - and this July, the reduced water consumption jumped to nearly 50%, largely due to the July 1 Stage 3 outside watering restrictions.

“We are achieving substantial compliance and cooperation with our outside watering ban,” Welch said.

The company anticipates returning to Stage 2 restrictions by the end of September or early October with the help of the predicted El Niño, cooler weather, and reduced water demand after the summer season.

Violation of the mandatory conservation measures will be enforced as necessary, and anyone seriously wasting water can face their service being discontinued.

The Bass Lake Water Co. serves customers located primarily on the north shore of Bass Lake and includes the Pines and Falls Tracts, the Pines Village area and several residential developments and picnic and camping areas at the north end of the lake.