Gov. Brown declares drought emergency

On the heels of one of the driest years in California history, and with little rain in sight in the upcoming weeks, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency Friday.

Across the state, water contractors are mandated to have an Urban Water Management Plan that is implemented to regulate and conserve water in emergencies. Currently, conservation is voluntary, but if the dry weather continues, mandatory conservation will become imminent.

With 2013 as one of the driest years on record in California – just over 7 inches of rain fell in Sonoma County in 2013, marking 20 percent of the area’s average rain fall – reservoirs across the state, including Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA)-managed Lake Mendocino, are critically low. According to the governor’s office, state officials say rivers and reservoirs are below record lows and the state’s snowpack is at only 20 percent of its average for January.

In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa asked both Gov. Brown and President Obama to issue a drought emergency for the arid state. Soon after, Brown assembled the Drought Task Force, a group of water authorities, to assess water demands, water scarcity and the urgency of a drought proclamation. Recently, he has traveled throughout the state to assess the effects of little rainfall.

Brown was governor in 1976 and 1977, one of California’s most severe dry periods. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the last drought emergency after a period of low rainfall in 2008 and 2009. Brown lifted that declaration in 2011 after a wet winter.

“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,” Brown said.

Brown, who spoke at a news conference in San Francisco, urged Californians to cut back on water usage by at least 20 percent. Among various provisions, the governor’s declaration calls for an increase in firefighters, updates to water management plans by cities and water districts, a moratorium on new, nonessential landscaping at public buildings and along highways, and orders the Drought Task Force to immediately develop a plan to provide emergency food supplies, financial assistance and unemployment services to suffering communities. To assist farmers, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will launch a website (cdfa.ca.gov/drought) that provides updates on the drought and connects them to state and federal programs during the drought.

The drought declaration gives state water officials more flexibility to manage their supply, streamlining the rules for water agencies to transfer extra water from one part of the state to another, easing shortages.

The drought declaration calls for state agencies, under the direction of the Department of Water Resources (DWR), to implement a statewide water conservation campaign. It also mandates that DWR accelerate spending on water supply and conservation projects that could begin this year.

SCWA, along with partner agencies, launched a new conservation campaign with water-saving tips through the Sonoma-Marin Water Saving Partnership earlier this month.

For more information about conservation programs and water-saving tips, go to wateroff.org. To find out more on the drought, visit sonomacountywater.org/current-water-supply-levels.