SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a statewide emergency because of drought, directing state officials to help farmers and giving them more flexibility in managing water supply.
As part of the declaration issued Jan. 17, the governor ordered agencies to use less water, hire more firefighters and expand a water-conservation public awareness campaign, according to his office.
“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,” Brown said in prepared remarks.
The move comes amid what some state officials are calling the worst drought in nearly four decades. The Department of Water Resources’ first snowpack reading earlier this month found the water content at about 20 percent of average for this time of year. Further, California’s river and reservoir levels are at historic lows, state officials note in a news release.
The declaration won immediate praise from the California Farm Bureau Federation, whose leaders urged the federal government to follow suit and provide flexibility in regulations that could hinder water transfers.
The drought also renews momentum for a state water bond, which is set for the ballot this year after having been postponed twice, CFBF second vice president Jamie Johansson said. The bond needs at least $3 billion for storage, which the Farm Bureau has been advocating since the last severe drought in 2009, he said.
“We knew this drought was coming, and here we are,” Johansson said during a Corning dinner Jan. 16. “Is that going to solve this year’s problems? No, but we are going to work to move that forward.”
Farmers and ranchers have already been feeling the pinch from the drought. Many cow-calf producers are on the verge of trimming their herds to cut down on feed costs, and row crop producers may leave as many as 500,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley unplanted this spring.
In May, Brown issued an executive order for state water officials to expedite voluntary water transfers, and in December he asked Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and other cabinet members to form a task force to discuss drought preparedness.
Tom Howard, executive director of the state Water Resources Control Board, said recently his agency can facilitate transfers as long as they don’t harm third-party users or cause an unreasonable impact on fish and wildlife. On that second point, the agency can relax standards or selectively enforce them if the conditions warrant, he said.
Sending water south of the Delta was more complicated, however, because of recent court orders to preserve several fish species. But even transfers south of the Delta may be eased under a state emergency, Howard has explained.
However, transfers may become impossible because of poor runoff into bone-dry reservoirs. Inflows into Shasta Lake and other reservoirs that feed the state and federal water projects are so low that even areas north of the Delta are bracing for allocation cutbacks, Northern California Water Association president David Guy has said.
Already, the Sacramento City Council and other local governments have issued strict rationing orders, and the state has signaled it will restrict pumping from wells in areas where groundwater overdrafts have occurred.
Gov. Jerry Brown: http://gov.ca.gov/home.php
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.cfbf.com