Drought task force to maximize water deliveries

Tim Hearden/Capital Press California Gov. Jerry Brown (right) talks with an attendee of a breakfast in Colusa, Calif., earlier this year. Brown has asked top state officials to set up a task force to deal with the state's worsening drought.

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — State officials say a drought task force set up by Gov. Jerry Brown will focus on maximizing the efficiency of water deliveries to farmers, particularly those in the western San Joaquin Valley.

The governor on Dec. 17 asked California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and others to form the task force to determine the state’s preparedness for a worsening drought that already has farmers anticipating few if any state or federal water allocations next spring.

“We must do everything we can to address the impacts of water shortages and move water from where it is available to where it is needed,” Brown said in a letter to top officials.

The state’s actions could include establishing a clearinghouse of water storage-related information, assessing the regions most affected by dry conditions and the impacts of drought on the regions’ economy, the governor stated.

The task force could help determine potential water transfers, infrastructure improvements, water trucking and other actions to alleviate the water shortages, Brown explained.

The administration “recognizes the potential seriousness of the current water situation for agriculture and is committed to doing what it can,” CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle told the Capital Press in an email.

Along with Ross, the task force will include State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, Department of Water Resources chairman Mark Cowin and Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci. The group will meet weekly, and its work could lead to a formal statewide drought declaration.

The task force’s formation comes as the Department of Water Resources has set up its own drought management team to help farmers and others make it through what is expected to be a dry 2014. Among the DWR’s principal concerns is the plight of farmers – especially those in the western San Joaquin Valley – who must operate with markedly less water than needed for crops, the agency said in a news release.

Jeanine Jones, the DWR’s interstate resources manager, said the department can’t make it rain or change biological opinions that have led to limitations on pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

However, the state and federal water projects “are working very hard with fishery agencies to improve operations and fine-tun as much as possible … to move water when it’s available,” Jones said.

When it does rain, water agencies might be able to use runoff water in streams below dams to meet needs south of the Delta, she said. The state has been working with sellers and buyers on water transfers as part of an executive order issued by Brown this spring, Jones said.

Officials from the DWR will make a presentation on the drought to the California Board of Food and Agriculture on Jan. 7. The 10 a.m. meeting will be held in the main auditorium at 1220 N St., Sacramento.


California Board of Food and Agriculture: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/state_board/

California Department of Water Resources: http://www.water.ca.gov

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