[LA FEATURE]Running Dry

LA FEATURE

Drought-stricken California communities face a third-consecutive dry year with no relief in sight

Southland Community Seeks New Water Source to Avoid Running Dry

By Patrick Healy
|  Saturday, Feb 8, 2014  |  Updated 3:49 PM PDT
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Lake of the Woods gets its water from ground wells, and the drought has left some of them going dry. Patrick Healy reports from Tejon Summit for the NBC4 News at 6pm on Feb. 6, 2014.

Patrick Healy/Pete Garrow/James Wulff

Lake of the Woods gets its water from ground wells, and the drought has left some of them going dry. Patrick Healy reports from Tejon Summit for the NBC4 News at 6pm on Feb. 6, 2014.

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A drought-stricken community near the I-5 corridor north of Los Angeles is now searching for new sources of water to avoid running dry, according to its water supplier. 

The Lake of the Woods Mutual Water Company serves 400 homes and commercial businesses in a community west of Frazier Park in the Tehachapi Mountains.

The company relies entirely on local groundwater, but well production dropped dangerously last July, triggering a complete ban on outdoor watering, said Board President Bob Sowell.  Even use of home washing machines has been restricted to every other day.

But it's feared conservation alone will not be enough when warm weather returns.

During two months of late summer heat last year, the water company had to purchase outside water and have tanker trucks deliver it to the company's storage tanks. Since then, with cooler weather, the reduced supply from the existing wells has been sufficient to keep storage stable.

Last month, Lake of the Woods was identified by California's Department of Public Health as one of 17 water agencies statewide in danger of "severe water shortages in the next 60 to 100 days," according to a statement issued January 28.  Also on the list is another small district in the Tehachapis,  Camp Condor, which provides water to a summer camp and to a nearby private school.

To help fund its search for new water sources, Lake of the Woods received a $250,000 grant from the state. Several test wells have been drilled, but so far without success.   


"Went down 400 feet. Just didn't get anything. So now we'll go deeper," Sowell said.

Geological and hydrological experts retained by the company have identified new locations to try drilling.  But the expectation is the new wells may have to go as deep as 1,000 feet, Sowell said.

The one-time lake that gave it name to Lake of the Woods disappeared decades ago. The
water company's current five wells are located on or near the dry lakebed.  There is a seasonal creek that is now dry.  It is not deemed a suitable source of surface water, nor does Lake of the Woods have any other surface source.

Because of their location, the Tehachapi mountain communities are not able to avail themselves of the enormous reserves of water stored in Southern California by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which draws surface water from the Colorado River and the State Water project, among other sources. This has given Los Angeles and other member agecies a cushion forestalling drought impacts.

Meantime, some other water districts are challenging their inclusion on the state's list, including two in the Sierra foothills northeast of Fresno, saying their supplies have stabilized for now.

Sierra Cedars Community Services District has four wells producing, said association president Pete Conrad.  The Bass Lake Water Company was "inadvertently listed," said Steve Welch, company president.

Be that as it may, Welch said they "may have to step us conservation" later in the year if there is not significant precipitation before then.

The showers that fell across the state Thursday brought welcome moisture.  But Lake of the Woods got only sprinkles.

"We need three years of good weather," Sowell said. "This helps a little bit."

But not nearly enough to halt the search for groundwater

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