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State drought declaration impacts local community

POSTED January 21, 2014 7:40 p.m.

As the ongoing drought continues to plague California, cities and public agencies throughout the state are vigorously trying to find ways to conserve water.

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a Drought State of Emergency declaration including several provisions on water use and consumption. In an effort to save the precious resource, the declaration included an order for all state agencies to implement water reduction plans including a moratorium on new, non-essential landscaping projects. By halting the use of water for such projects, including on state highways and roads, Brown hopes to significantly reduce water usage.

California State University, Stanislaus reports that the university will be complying with the Governor’s emergency orders, including a 20-percent reduction in water use. Associate Vice President for Facilities Services Melody Maffei said that the university would also be partaking in the moratorium, bringing a halt to new, non-essential landscaping projects.

The extremely dry conditions have had devastating effects on several communities throughout the state, particularly communities that are economically dependent on farming and agriculture.

With the Don Pedro Reservoir significantly below its historical average for this time of year, Turlock Irrigation District will likely cut back on the water available to local growers, offering a lower allotment than in normal years.

“TID is supportive of the Governor’s declaration and we’re glad that he is taking the issue as seriously as we do,” said TID spokesperson Calvin Curtin. “We’re hopeful that the Governor’s declaration will bring awareness of the severity of the issue to all Californians.”

As the district continues to be in the driest three year period on record, Curtin said TID will be offering a series of grower meetings as part of their conservation measures to bring local farmers up-to-date regarding the current water situation.

Although some cities across California have opted to place regulations on excessive lawn watering for residents due to the ongoing drought, City Manager Roy Wasden says that at this point, the City of Turlock has not discussed any similar actions.

“We do have current regulations in place that have already seen a 16-percent reduction in water use,” said Wasden. “I believe that we’ve dropped our annual water use by about a billion gallons, and we will continue to do these things and hope to see more there. We need to continue to do all that we can to reduce water usage…We’re all in this together. Water issues affect everyone, whether it is residential or agricultural. We have large Ag users who process that food in our industrial park, and dairies and farmers who supply the products, so we have to be very vigilant. I don’t know if we’ll take any further actions, as we haven’t discussed it since the Governor’s drought declaration, but conservation is very important and we’ve been working on it.”

Wasden shared that he hopes Turlock residents will continue to check their water usage, as personal accounts can be viewed on the City’s website to monitor individual water consumption patterns.

City councilmember Forrest White, who sits on the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority and is a member of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project, says that he hopes the City will continue their conservation efforts while finding ways to reduce usage.

“All cities and public entities are going to have to look at what types of conservation can take place. Some cities may go to watering two days a week, and if that is something that we wish to adopt, then we could move in that direction. We’ll be looking to the Municipal Services staff to see what makes sense for our community, what we can do or ask the residents to do,” said White. “There’s a lot that we can do internally, as far as what the City can do with their property…We’re going to have to look at that and say, how do we keep things alive, but maybe not as green and luscious as they normally are. That may be a compromise. If you water your lawn twice a week, it’s going to be green but not as lush. Those are some of the choices and things that we’re going to have to face here shortly.”

Michael Cooke, the City’s municipal services director, shared during a recent City Council meeting that nearly 60-percent of the city’s water goes to watering residential lawns and front yards.

City staff, including Cooke, will be pivotal to any decisions the City Council may decide to make in the coming weeks in response to the drought declaration, shared White.

“If there is going to be any recommended council action, it is better to do it sooner than later. As of right now, I have not been notified of any drastic changes other than the conservation efforts that we’ve already been doing,” said White. “Everyone is in this together. It’s not just cities or irrigation districts, but all public entities in general are going to have to look at what they can do to, I hate to say ‘limit’, but to let people know how we need to focus on conservation…It could be difficult for everyone, not just residents or farmers, but everyone. It affects all of our lives.”

Wasden said that city staff will be holding a meeting this week where they will discuss the Governor’s drought declaration and its impacts.

“We’re going to continue our current efforts, and we may have to look into advanced efforts,” said Wasden. “Everyone’s praying for rain…We’re dependent on that.”

California’s drought has caught national attention, as House Speaker John Boehner will make a visit to the state on Wednesday, joining with three Republican colleagues to propose emergency legislation aimed at drought relief. The lawmakers are expected to announce a bill seeking to halt the restoration of the San Joaquin River through 2015, allow farmers to pump irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and form a joint House-Senate committee to address long-term water concerns.

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