As California continues to struggle through one of the driest years on record with ongoing water shortages and extreme drought conditions, Gov. Jerry Brown has proclaimed a State of Emergency.
Directing state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for the severe dry conditions, the Drought State of Emergency declaration aims to assist farms and communities that have been economically impacted by the ongoing drought.
"We can't make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California's drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas," said Gov. Brown during a press conference. "I've declared this emergency and I'm calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible."
The governor has directed state agencies to use less water to ensure that the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages. Additionally, Gov. Brown has requested agencies throughout the state to hire more firefighters in light of the dry conditions, while also initiating an expanded water conservation public awareness campaign.
Water officials throughout the state have reported that California's river and reservoirs are significantly below record lows. As of Jan. 13, Don Pedro Reservoir was reported as being at 51 percent of its total capacity, nearly 26 percent less than its historical average. Current reservoir levels are reported as lower than the previous record low levels in 1977, the same year of the last federal drought declaration.
Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack's statewide water content at about 20 percent of normal average for this time of year. Additionally, the Department of Water Resources announced the historically lowest initial State Water Project allocation of five percent for water year 2014. According to the DWR, three years of dry conditions in the state, coupled with 14 years of consecutive dry conditions in the Colorado River Basin, has depleted the carryover storage in reservoirs for the Central Valley and State Water projects to historically low levels.
In response to the ongoing drought, state legislators have focused their attention to the severely dry conditions, joining together in an effort to encourage all Californians to conserve water while also calling for assistance from the federal government.
"Today's declaration is long overdue," said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock). "I continue to urge President Obama and Governor Brown to improve California's water storage and conveyance by providing additional storage and adding flexibility to burdensome regulations that shut off water to Valley communities."
Rep. Denham shared that he has introduced legislation to improve water storage conditions in the Central Valley, adding that the state must put water to productive use for farmers and families rather than allowing the scarce resource to wash away into the Pacific Ocean.
Other lawmakers including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Jim Costa have also encouraged President Obama to form a federal drought task force capable of coordinating a swift, decisive cross-agency response to the ongoing water crisis facing California.
"We request that you immediately appoint a federal drought task force and appoint a federal drought coordinator to parallel efforts at the state level," said the letter addressed to the President. "The ongoing dry conditions call for immediate, measurable actions from federal agencies to complement the work being done at the state level to address the water supply challenges that face California."
Gov. Brown's Drought State of Emergency follows a series of actions the administration has taken to ensure that the state is prepared for record dry conditions. In May 2013, Gov. Brown issued an executive order directing state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water and water rights. In December, the governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations, California's preparedness for water scarcity and whether conditions merited a drought declaration.
Early last week, Gov. Brown also visited the Central Valley to speak with growers and others impacted by the dry conditions.
"As we face one of the driest years in California's history, we must take immediate action. There is too much at stake," said Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres). "Lack of water means a loss of jobs, a shrinking food supply, and threatens the integrity of our drinking water. As a member of the bipartisan coalition of legislators calling upon Governor Brown to issue a drought declaration late last year, I applaud the Governor for recognizing the dire situation we all face and am committed to working with him, my colleagues in the legislature to develop short and long term solutions to ensure we provide water to those that need it most."
As part of the declaration, state agencies will be responsible for executing the state water conservation campaign, Save Our Water, led by the Department of Water Resources. The campaign aims to make all Californians aware of the drought, while encouraging them to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. Californians can learn ways to reduce water usage by visiting www.saveourh20.org
Additionally, the declaration orders that:
• Local urban water supplies and municipalities implement their local water shortage contingency plans immediately to avoid outright restrictions that could become necessary later in the drought season;
• State agencies implement water use reduction plans for all state facilities, including a moratorium on new, non-essential landscaping projects at state facilities and on state highways and roads;
• Expedite the processing of water transfers; streamline water transfers and exchanges between water uses within the areas of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project;
• Accelerate funding for water supply enhancement projects;
• The State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases or diversion limitations;
• The State Drinking Water Program work with local agencies to find communities that may run out of drinking water while providing technical and financial assistance to them;
• The California Department of Food and Agriculture to launch a one-stop website providing timely updates on the drought, connecting farms to state and federal programs;
• The Department of Fish and Wildlife to evaluate and mange the changing impacts of drought on threatened or endangered species, while working with the Fish and Game Commission to determine whether restricting fishing in certain areas will become necessary and prudent as drought persists;
• Department of Water Resources to take action to protect water quality and supply in the Delta, including installation of temporary barriers or water supply connections as needed;
• California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to hire additional seasonal firefighters to suppress wildfires during time of elevated fire risk;
• Drought Task Force to develop a plan to provide emergency food supplies, financial assistance, and unemployment services in communities that suffer high levels of unemployment from the drought; and
• Monitor drought impacts on a daily basis and advise the Governor and his administration of any further actions that may be necessary if drought conditions worsen.