Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a drought state of emergency, calling on Californians to cut water usage by 20 percent and directing public officials to put in motion 19 other measures, following similar actions taken recently by North Coast officials amid what is said to be shaping up to be the worst water supply situation in more than a century.
The executive order Gov. Brown signed in San Francisco on Friday caps several actions his office has taken over the past year to prepare for emergency management of statewide water supplies and as assessments of the Sierra Nevada snowcap suggests water content is 20 percent of normal for this time of year.
“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,” Gov. Brown said at a press conference related to the signing of the order. “I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.”
The main water supply for Mendocino, Sonoma and northern Marin counties — Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma via the Russian River — has been drained after the record low rainfall last year and several previous years of lower rainfall, according to Sonoma County Water Agency, which manages the system. This rain season has been the driest in the 120 years of Sonoma County records, the agency said.
Lake Mendocino currently is at about 38 percent capacity, leading officials in Mendocino County to declare drought emergencies and inform grapegrowers and other agricultural users not to tap wells and streams to fill reservoirs used for frost prevention in the next few months and irrigation later in the growing season.
Many North Coast environmentalists and farmers have been warning that the state’s water supplies can’t be sufficiently managed by conservation alone, according to a statement by state Sen. Noreen Evans, whose district includes Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties.
“Our lakes and rivers are now mere puddles compared with their historical capacities and we’re dangerously close to a high fire season before winter even ends,” she said. “We’ve known our state’s water situation has been bleak for the last three years, and now our communities are literally counting down the days left in their water reserves with no anticipation of wet weather for months to come.”
Heidi Scheid, a Central Coast winegrape grower and chairman of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, said the governor’s action Friday must spur more action on water-storage project.
“California winegrape growers are highly invested in water conservation and are focused on using the least amount of water necessary to produce high quality crops,” Ms. Scheid said. “By using such measures as drip irrigation, careful timing of irrigation applications, and managing soil to enhance its water holding capacity, winegrape growers have steadily reduced water consumption. In addition, our industry continues to work with researchers on developing drought tolerant varieties of winegrape stock. However, these efforts are no replacement for additional water storage.
“If climate change predictions hold true, California will experience greater variability and uncertainty of water supply. California must act now to preserve future availability of water for farmers, communities and wildlife. We need more storage and it’s my hope that Governor Brown’s declaration will inject new energy into efforts to identify and develop new water storage for the state.”
Permitting for private reservoirs in the North Coast has been slow for more than a decade, exacerbating dependence on wells and stream diversions for frost protection and irrigation. A waterway flow policy emerging for the Russian River basin in recent years and ordinances such as Sonoma County’s on use of water for frost protection have spurred wine industry trade groups to act collectively to manage water use.
Key provisions of the governor’s executive order today were:
- Local urban water suppliers and municipalities are called upon to implement their local water shortage contingency plans immediately in order to avoid or forestall outright restrictions that could become necessary later in the drought season. Local water agencies should also update their legally required urban and agricultural water management plans, which help plan for extended drought conditions.
- The Department of Water Resources and the Water Board will accelerate funding for water supply enhancement projects that can break ground this year and will explore if any existing unspent funds can be repurposed to enable near-term water-conservation projects.
- The State Water Resources Control Board will consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases or diversion limitations, where existing requirements were established to implement a water quality control plan. These changes would enable water to be conserved upstream later in the year to protect cold water pools for salmon and steelhead, maintain water supply, and improve water quality.
- The Department of Fish and Wildlife will evaluate and manage the changing impacts of drought on threatened and endangered species and species of special concern, and develop contingency plans for state wildlife areas and ecological reserves to manage reduced water resources in the public interest.
- The Department of Water Resources will evaluate changing groundwater levels, land subsidence, and agricultural land fallowing as the drought persists and will provide a public update by April 30 that identifies groundwater basins with water shortages and details gaps in groundwater monitoring.
- That department will work with counties to help ensure that well drillers submit required groundwater well logs for newly constructed and deepened wells in a timely manner and the Office of Emergency Services will work with local authorities to enable early notice of areas experiencing problems with residential groundwater sources.
In May, Gov. Brown issued an executive order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water and water rights. Last month, the governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations.
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