In a sweeping effort to further combat the impacts of California’s ongoing drought, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an extensive new emergency drought proclamation on Friday, cutting red tape in various government functions to help water agencies find new supplies, fight wildfires and assist cities and farmers.
The second executive order also presses the public to continue using water carefully, calling on residents and businesses to conserve water while prohibiting homeowner associations from fining residents who limit their lawn watering in addition to other conservation measures. In addition to encouraging California residents to not water their lawn more than twice a week, Gov. Brown listed a number of ways to conserve water at home, including washing vehicles with recycled water and using a broom instead of a hose to clean sidewalks and driveways.
“I call on every city, every community, every Californian to conserve water in every way possible,” said Brown in a statement. “The driest months are still to come in California and extreme drought conditions will get worse. This order cuts red tape to help get water to farmers more quickly, ensure communities have safe drinking water, protect vulnerable species and prepare for an extreme fire season.”
Going beyond his first emergency drought proclamation on Jan. 17, Gov. Brown’s second proclamation increases emergency drought measures by the state, such as waiving compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and the State Water Code for a number of actions including water transfer, wastewater treatment projects, habitat improvements for winter-run Chinook salmon endangered by the drought, and curtailment of water rights.
Additionally, the order directs the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board to expedite approvals of voluntary water transfers to assist farmers. According to the California Farm Water Coalition, as of March 4, more than 90 percent of California's $44.7 billion farm economy was experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought, with at least 800,000 acres of farmland expected to be idled due to water supply shortages.
Due to water shortages throughout the state, California’s lost crop production is estimated at $3.56 billion with a total economic impact on the economy of $7.48 billion. According to a report from the USDA, food costs nationwide are likely to exceed the normal rate of food price inflation specifically due to the major impacts of California’s drought as the state produces more than 60 percent of the nation’s fruit and tree nuts and 51 percent of its vegetables.
“Today's proclamation by Governor Brown further underscores the critical situation California faces in this extended drought," said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. “It emphasizes the need for maximum flexibility in water transfers to some of the state's most important food-growing regions as well as protections for threatened and endangered fish in the state's rivers and streams. It strikes a balance between the ecosystem and the state's capacity to produce food for grocery store shelves and for the jobs and economic activity generated by the nation's number one farm state.”
Since January, state water officials say that reservoirs, rainfall totals and the snowpack remain critically low. Current electronic readings show the snowpack’s statewide water content at just 16 percent of average.
To respond to the increased threat of wildfire season, the order streamlines contracting rules for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and CALFIRE for equipment purchases and enables landowners to quickly clear brush and dead, dying or diseased trees that increase fire danger.
The order also suspends competitive bidding requirements for drought-related projects undertaken by a number of state agencies, including the departments of Water Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Public Health.
Resources Agency spokesman Richard Stapler, commenting on behalf of Brown’s administration, says the additional executive order was needed for some specific steps including expediting fish habitat improvement projects in Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and permitting water districts to restrict outdoor watering.
“The new order is designed to make sure we're addressing everything we possibly can," said Stapler. "There are a lot of different pieces of this that we need to continue to address."
Additionally, Stapler says it is too soon to know if more executive actions will be needed throughout the summer months and rest of the year.
To learn more about water conservation efforts, visit SaveOurH2O.org, and visit www.Drought.CA.gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.