The logging town of Willits in Northern California's redwood country is dotted with small blue signs urging water conservation, just one of many indications of its dire water shortage.

The city's Centennial Reservoir is less than a third full, and the creek that feeds it has slowed to a trickle as California remains plagued by historic drought conditions. The state's Department of Public Health says 17 rural areas including Willits — a town of about 5,000 — are dangerously low on water.

The emergency is a disruption to everyday life in the Mendocino County locale known as the final resting place of the racehorse Seabiscuit. City leaders have banned lawn watering and car washing, mandated dramatic cuts in water use and asked restaurants to serve it only upon request.