California Faces Water Rationing, Governor Proclaims Drought Emergency

SACRAMENTO, California, February 27, 2009 (ENS) – Parched California is a step closer to mandatory water rationing today as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency and ordered all government agencies to implement the state’s emergency plan and provide help for people, communities and businesses impacted by the third consecutive year of drought.

“This drought is having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy and our environment – making today’s action absolutely necessary,” Governor Schwarzenegger said. “This is a crisis, just as severe as an earthquake or raging wildfire, and we must treat it with the same urgency by upgrading California’s water infrastructure to ensure a clean and reliable water supply for our growing state.”

The governor’s order directs that by March 30, the Department of Water Resources will provide an updated report on the state’s drought conditions and water availability.

If the emergency conditions have not eased, the governor said he could start mandatory water rationing and mandatory reductions in water use.

Schwarzenegger said he could order reoperation of major reservoirs in the state to minimize impacts of the drought. He also could provide additional regulatory relief or permit streamlining as allowed under the Emergency Services Act.

The governor called for a statewide water conservation campaign and asked all urban water users to immediately reduce their individual water use by 20 percent. He asked all Californians to reduce their water use as much as possible.

“Even with the recent rainfall, California faces its third consecutive year of drought and we must prepare for the worst – a fourth, fifth or even sixth year of drought,” he said. “Last year we experienced the driest spring and summer on record and storage in the state’s reservoir system is near historic lows.”

The DWR and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are ordered to recommend, within 30 days, measures to reduce the economic impacts of the drought, including water transfers, through-Delta emergency transfers, water conservation measures, efficient irrigation practices, and improvements to the California Irrigation Management Information System.

Low water in Littlerock Reservoir, Littlerock, California (Photo by David Steele)

The drought conditions and water restrictions are causing additional devastating economic and business losses. Agricultural revenue losses exceed $300 million to date and could exceed $2 billion in the coming season, with a total economic loss of nearly $3 billion in 2009.

In his proclamation, Governor Schwarzenegger directs the Department of Water Resources to expedite water transfers and related efforts by water users and suppliers.

The governor also directs the DWR to implement short-term efforts to protect water quality or water supply, such as the installation of temporary barriers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta or temporary water supply connections.

He asks the state water agency to offer technical assistance to agricultural water suppliers and agricultural water users and provide information on managing water supplies to minimize economic impacts and implementing efficient water management practices.

He asks local, state and federal agencies to immediately implement a water use reduction plan and take immediate water conservation actions.

And finally, he directs the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to assist the labor market, including job training and financial assistance in view of the drought conditions.

Last week, the Department of Water Resources announced that California’s severe drought had prevented it from increasing its State Water Project delivery allocations for the first time since 2001. This year’s allocation as of February is at just 15 percent of contractor’s requests.

The DWR says January 2009 was the eighth driest on record. Hydrologists predict the season must end at 120 to 130 percent of normal in order to replenish reservoirs, a scenario that becomes increasingly unlikely as the rainy season passes.

In December, new rules to protect smelt in the Delta permanently reduced Delta water deliveries to two-thirds of California, with reductions of 20 percent to 30 percent most years.

Water exports from giant pumps near Tracy already had been cut temporarily by a federal judge.

An assessment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the pumps are jeopardizing Delta smelt. Environmentalists say the new rules are a step toward correcting years of mismanagement of the Delta by the state and federal governments.

But the water restrictions are making life difficult for water users. They have called for construction of a peripheral canal so that water could be shipped around, rather than through, the fragile Delta estuary.

To cope with the drought, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa February 9 accelerated water use restrictions under his 20-year water strategy and called for implementation of shortage-year water rates.

“Water shortages are becoming permanent realities,” the mayor said.

With the probability increasing for the first mandatory reductions in imported water supplies in Southern California in nearly a generation, the Metropolitan Water District February 10 doubled funding for conservation and rebate programs to keep pace with growing demands.

Metropolitan’s board authorized an additional $20 million for regional programs offering consumers and businesses rebates for installing water-saving devices and providing financial incentives to public agencies to make conservation investments.

“The unprecedented water supply situation facing Southern California and the rest of the state will not be solved with one or two hearty storms,” said Metropolitan Board Chairman Timothy Brick. “Today, residents and businesses throughout Southern California face a three-in-four chance that they may soon feel the direct impact from drought and problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that demand a comprehensive, sustainable solution.”

He warned, “That impact could lead to mandatory conservation in Southern California for the first time since 1991.”

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