Governor declares California drought emergency

[caption id="attachment_86194" align="alignleft" width="320"] Gov. Jerry Brown, with (from left) Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird and Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin, on Friday said Californians need to conserve water by 20 percent "in every way possible."[/caption]

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.

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