California Governor declares drought emergency

by Ron Sterk
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KANSAS CITY — California Governor Jerry Brown on Jan. 17 proclaimed a State of Emergency and directed state officials to “take all necessary actions” to prepare for water shortages caused by what is expected to be the driest year in the state’s history.

“I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible,” Governor Brown said. “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.”

In directives associated with the declaration, Governor Brown called on all Californians to reduce water usage by 20% and for municipalities to immediately implement local water shortage contingency plans.

The proclamation gave state water agencies (the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board) greater flexibility to manage water supply in the state, including expediting of transfers to get water to the areas that need it most.

The Department of Water Resources was directed to provide an update by April 30 on groundwater levels, land subsidence and agricultural land fallowing.

Mountain snowpack, which is a key source of the state’s water supply, is about 20% of normal, many reservoirs and major rivers are at low to historic low levels and groundwater levels throughout the state have dropped significantly, according to the proclamation.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said initial water allocation levels released for the State Water Project in November were “among the lowest on record” at 5% (thus 95% short of needs). The department said 9 of California’s 12 major lakes and reservoirs were below 50% capacity, with Folsom Lake, northeast of Sacramento, at a low of 20%.

“We appreciate the action taken by Governor Brown today,” said Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers. “Drought conditions are wreaking havoc on farmers in California, especially in the San Joaquin Valley. The situation is dire and requires the full attention of state and federal leaders, which is why the declaration is so important.”

Western Growers represents farmers who producer about half of the nation’s fresh fruit and vegetables and about a third of fresh organic produce.
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