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California Drought Update: Gov. Brown Declares Emergency

| January 17, 2014
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Ripples on a section of dry lake bottom near Folsom Dam, east of Sacramento. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Ripples on a section of dry lake bottom near Folsom Dam, east of Sacramento. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Update, 10 a.m. Friday: As expected, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency throughout California, including a call for a voluntary statewide reduction in water consumption.

“It’s important to awaken all Californians to the seriousness of the drought and the lack of rain,” the governor said during a brief appearance in San Francisco. “… I am calling for a collaborative effort to restrain our water use.”

The drought declaration outlines 20 steps, some mandatory, some merely advisory, to meet water shortages that have already started to impact many communities in the state.

One of those advisory steps: The governor is asking California residents and businesses for a 20 percent voluntary reduction in water use, and he’s requesting that water agencies throughout the state implement drought contingency plans now to head off outright restrictions on water use later on. “To some extent this is a zero-sum game,” the governor said. “The more water we use, the less water we have. The more water we save, the more water we have.”

Among the mandatory drought measures Brown announced, he’s requiring state agencies to cut water use immediately. The drought declaration also orders several technical measures to make it easier for water rights holders to transfer supplies to other uses. The declaration also orders state water agencies to expedite proposed “supply enhancement” projects that are ready to break ground, to consider modifying reservoir operations to preserve water needed to protect water quality and threatened fish species, and to put water rights holders on notice that they may be required to limit planned water diversions or halt them altogether.

The governor emphasized that the state may be facing the worst drought in its history, that no single government effort will meet the crisis and that Californians need to be ready for a prolonged effort to deal with a crisis in water supply.

“I think the drought emphasizes that we do live in an era of limits and that we need solutions that are elegant,” the governor said. He added there’s “a huge gap” between the measures that may be technologically and economically feasible — steps like wider use of recycled water — and the measures now employed in the state.

‘The more water we use, the less water we have. The more water we save, the more water we have.’

Asked about possible battles over water use, for instance between environmental advocates and agricultural interests, the governor called on Californians to realize they’re part of one large community and need to cooperate.

The governor concluded by saying, “I wish I had more to say to you about this. All I can tell you is that it won’t rain today and probably won’t rain for the next several weeks.”

What kind of pain are Bay Area residents likely to feel as a result of the drought? On Friday KQED’s Mina Kim talked with Peter Gleick, head of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based water policy think tank:

Original post (Thursday):
For weeks, Gov. Jerry Brown has been facing increasing pressure to declare a drought emergency as California’s long, long rainless and snowless winter continues. And now, action appears to be imminent.

Brown’s office announced late Thursday afternoon that the governor will make a “major announcement” Friday morning in San Francisco. Melody Gutierrez of the San Francisco Chronicle was the first to tweet what the announcement will be:

The Sacramento Bee also cited unidentified sources as saying a drought declaration is coming Friday.

Earlier this week, Brown visited Fresno and heard pleas from state lawmakers, local officials, agricultural industry representatives and San Joaquin Valley residents for a drought declaration. He told them, the Los Angeles Times recounted:

“It’s coming,” Brown said of a formal proclamation when asked during a press conference at Fresno City Hall. “Just be patient. …

“It’s really serious,” Brown said. “In many ways it’s a mega-drought; it’s been going on for a number of years.”

The Fresno Bee added:

“The bishops are advising us to pray for rain. I am planning to go beyond that and do whatever we can in terms of water exchanges, working with local farmers and water districts to maximize the resources that we have. It is really serious and my staff and administration are preparing appropriate papers to do what is necessary.”

Among those calling on Brown to declare an emergency: Sen. Dianne Feinstein and San Joaquin Valley Rep. Jim Costa, who issued a joint statement last month urging action. The declaration would also clear the way for President Obama to declare a federal emergency, put some federal regulations on hold, facilitate transfers of waters among federally managed projects and provide financial relief.

But Brown is cautioning California residents that the practical import of a drought declaration is limited. The Sacramento Bee says:

“I’m trying to understand what physically we can do in the face of this drought, and then legally what steps can I take,” the Democratic governor told reporters in Bakersfield on Tuesday.

Brown said a drought declaration could be helpful, “but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t rain, California’s in for real trouble. And the governor, through a declaration, can’t make it rain.”

The state’s also seeing agitation for longer-term solutions to the state’s water supply challenges.

On Thursday, a State Capitol rally of lawmakers, farm community residents and agriculture industry officials urged support for an $11.1 billion water bond that’s been in limbo since 2010. The Legislature passed the measure, which provides billions for new dams and would support more than a hundred local conservation and water supply programs, but has twice pulled it from the ballot. From the Sacramento Bee, again:

“I see farmers, I see farmworkers; I see people from urban communities and from rural communities, all here today to send one message: that we need water,” said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno.

A procession of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, most representing the Central Valley, took the podium to issue similar pleas. Many called for money to ensure clean drinking water and for more storage capacity, saying it would offset dry years by allowing the state to capture more during years of plentiful rain.

“Additional storage is the key,” said Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte. “This year’s drought simply underscores how critical the situation has become.”

A sea of blue signs reading “sin agua=no ay futuro” (no water, no future) or some variation backdropped the speakers, highlighting the California Latino Water Coalition’s role in organizing the rally.

“2014 is going to be one of California’s worst water supply years in recent history,” said Mario Santoyo, director of the coalition. He called the shortfall an issue not just for reduced food production, “but more importantly for those that are here, the issue is that when there is no water, there’s no jobs.”

And finally: Earlier this week, KQED Forum host talked to a panel of water experts on the unfolding drought and the governor’s impending action:

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Category: Environment, Science

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.
  • MinWoo

    California will cut down on its water use, the utilities will charge more for water since water use is down. Im not buying into it. Thank god I live in an apartment without water charges………

    • Nick Girard

      You’re not buying into it?

      Supply goes down and demand goes up,

      I’m in the same situation. I’m lucky. I’m also worried that if my neighbors don’t start taking navy showers (rinse, turn off faucet, lather, rinse) that we’re going to run out of water to shower with and drink

  • Optima Steamer

    Everyone better get them a steamer and save on all water! No more washing cars in your driveways.Steam uses way less water! http://www.steamericas.com

  • DesertSun59

    Any energy company that is involved in fracking in CA will get a total and complete pass on this ‘voluntary’ effort, of course. Their lobbyists have already seen to that. When they’ve sucked all the water out of the local water table they’ll just be able to blame it on the drought.

    Nestle will get a total and complete pass on this effort, too. They have profits to think about.

    Profit margins ALWAYS win. Always. Lobbyists have a playbook. When the going gets rough, they read every single word on how to make sure THEY win.

    • Nick Girard

      It’d be different if it were nationalized fracking, then we could at least use areas with low water tables and burn the gas to power desalination plants

  • Deborah michelle

    Is anyone out there awake? Water became an issue soon after aerial spraying of our skies. City by city this practice has become the new norm for California. As a result year after year rainfall has been depleted by records. Not to mention tree death and barium showing up with other metals and salts in our soil samples, water samples and our very own lab samples. Wake up and stop chem trails.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Today it’s a drought. Yesterday and tomorrow it will be mud slides.