Governor proclaims drought state of emergency

Brown urges all Californians to reduce water usage by 20 percent as experts project 2014 will be driest year on record

Gov. Jerry Brown Friday proclaimed a drought state of emergency in what is expected to be the driest year on record in California.

Brown ordered state agencies to take actions to prepare for emergency conditions and called on Californians to reduce water consumption voluntarily by 20 percent.

"We have to recognize this is not a partisan adversary," Brown said at a morning news conference in his office at the State Building in San Francisco.

"This is Mother Nature. We have to live within the resources we have," the governor said.

Brown's proclamation says state water supplies have dipped to "alarming levels," with mountain snowpacks at 20 percent of normal for this time of year, reduced surface flow in rivers and significant drops in reservoir and groundwater levels.

The proclamation includes a series of executive orders requiring state agencies to aid affected farmers and communities by expediting water transfers and releasing stored water from reservoirs.

State agencies were also ordered to develop water conservation plans. The Department of Forestry will hire additional seasonal firefighters, Brown said.

Brown said he hopes to get federal aid to deal with the drought but said he did not know specifically what that aid might be.

Brown said he hopes the environmental analysis of his Delta Plan, which proposes two 35-mile tunnels to divert water to Central and Southern California, will speed up. Some conservationists and local officials have opposed the plan.

Brown said allocating water in California entails conflicts between northern and southern and urban and rural parts of the state, but said, "We all depend on one another."

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said he welcomed the proclamation.

Wenger urged Brown to lead a campaign for increased water storage facilities to provide more flexibility in the face of volatile weather patterns.

"Conservation alone won't solve our chronic water supply problems. California must commit to improve its water system," Wenger said in a statement.

Outside the State Building, a group of about 25 members of several environmental groups chanted and carried signs urging Brown to end fracking in California. Fracking, the hydraulic fracturing of underground rock to release oil, uses millions of gallons of water.

David Turnbull, campaigns director for Oil Change International, said, "To allow water-intensive fracking for oil to continue in a drought is to deny the reality of what California's farmers and communities are facing every day."

— Bay City News Service


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Posted by Julia
a resident of Alamo
on Jan 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

Oh we go again...Cut water usage by 20% and the EBMUD folks will increase the rate for water...Why you ask, because we are not using enough water to cover EBMUD operating expenses.

The "we the people" get screwed again and again.

I am all for cutting back but for gods sake do not increase our water rate.

Thanks for listening, Julia Pardini from Alamo

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Posted by P
a resident of Blackhawk
on Jan 20, 2014 at 11:54 am

I agree with Julia. Also, I can remember drought problems and water cutbacks being requested ever since I moved here in 1990 and still this area kept on building houses all over. Funny, if there wasn't enough water before the housing boom, how can there be enough now?

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Posted by C. R. Mudgeon
a resident of Danville
on Jan 20, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I applaud Brown for trying to get people to voluntarily cut back (voluntary for now, anyway). But I DO have two politically-oriented comments:

- The concern expressed above, namely that we will reduce our water usage, and then EBMUD will ask for a rate increase to make up for "lost revenue", IS a very valid concern. It is also true that EBMUD's actual cost structure does have a high fixed-cost component, that is independent of usage. But the current rate structure doesn't "line up" with this sort of cost structure. The rate structure is designed to subsidize low-usage customers at the expense of higher-usage customers, by having a very low "zero-usage" base cost (the price of just having service), low rates for the first xxxx gallons used, and then rapidly-increasing tiered rates for higher usage. This is all well and good for encouraging conservation, and for giving lower-income people a break (i.e., people without lawns, and especially, people without pools). But it also creates the problem of EBMUD not covering their fixed costs, as people conserve more. It would make more sense to have a higher starting rate, mostly independent of usage, and then lower rates for consumed water, so as to better match EBMUD's actual cost structure. You could still charge more for high-usage above some threshhold. But the pricing scheme should be less usage-sensitive, overall. (Note that this is independent of "side issues", such as whether EBMUD's salary structures, pension liabilities, etc., are warranted....)

- My other comment is that maybe this drought will convince people of the pressing need for greater reservoir capacity. I get the fact that there is little chance of new dams and reservoirs. BUT, can we at least consider the more practical option of raising dam heights by some incremental amount, to increase the capacities of existing reservoirs? Obviously this isn't practical at all reservoirs, due to geography, not to mention homes and businesses on shorelines, etc. But there ARE viable candidates for reservoir capacity increases. And can we also forget about tearing down the Hetch-Hetchy dam, at least for now? We need the capacity. (And while the original Hetch-Hetchy Valley is/was incredibly beautiful, I would argue that the lake/reservoir is also very beautiful... What, you don't like lakes?)

Frankly, improvements to our water supply are far more important than a bullet train that will probably never be as cheap as Southwest Airlines...

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Posted by jk
a resident of Alamo
on Jan 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

The basic, yet overriding, problem is that California subsidizes large scale commercial water intensive agriculture and water use in Southern California.

California is the second largest producer of rice in the US, and rice alone uses about 2.5% of california's water. Agriculture in general uses between 40% to 80% of our water , depending on whose figures are quoted, and 25% of the agricultural crop of California is exported.

Traditionally, Southern California has not conserved water. Will this change? I doubt it.

Until, and unless, we truly get serious about water use, nothing will happen

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Posted by Louise
a resident of Danville
on Jan 24, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Agriculture uses most of the water in California but it is also a huge producer of jobs and revenue for the state. It is not the residential water user that is consuming the most. What about golf courses? They don't produce much in the way of revenue, little job creation and use an enormous amount of water and toxic fertilizers. They should be at the highest cost tier. t is not a necessity, like agriculture and residential use.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Danville
on Jan 24, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Many golf courses in California use recycled water that has been purified by waste water treatment facilities.

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Posted by JP
a resident of Danville
on Feb 3, 2014 at 10:22 am

I can't argue with any of the above. Dealing with water companies is a way of life and unless you have a private water source (well), you can save your complaints because you will not win. Shoot for water use reduction. It will save you money.

I wish everyone would do a self-assessment of their water usage on their property. Having a house in Danville built in 1991, and having come from a previous home serviced by a private residential well, I have made a few glaring observations. I have not yet taken a spin through some of the local water zoning and plumbing codes since moving here to see how I can make some corrections...but I will. Here are some thoughts.

Irrigation systems here are designed with various back-flow prevention devices or configurations. My particular system (and all of them on my street), when running my zones in front of the house, discharges a great amount of water directly to our perimeter drain and ultimately out to the street curb. Its not a leak but a design. I've seen almost every house on my street do the same thing. If I had to guess, it appears more water is being wasted than actually applied to landscaping in these area. I know air gaps and back-flow prevention is vitally important to keeping our drinking water safe from the back-flow of pesticides and other contaminants in our landscaping systems...but technology has come a long way and there are fixes and devices to correct this.

My system is also really old and not capable of being custom programed. A new control box can be purchages for relatively low dollars. Water one day less per week (the plants will be fine)...or add a ground moisture sensor or even rain sensor (ha ha, I know, irrelevant now). Research what plants and grass you have...adjust spray nozzles and run times accordingly. If you have a decent landscaper or irrigation service company, most will do this for you for free. You'd be surprised just how much water you can save. I did this at my old house and cut my irrigation water by over half.

There are also very good low-flow devices out there to dramatically reduce household water consumption without compromising on our treasured water pressure. Simply putting in a toilet tank bladder will cut down on flush water and still do the job. Anyone doing a renovation and deciding to not put in a dual flush toilet is wasting a huge opportunity for very little up-front cost in the price of these toilets. I also don't think I need a water heater in my house the size of a volkswagon. If it is time to replace a dishwasher or washing machine...just getting a new one will cut water use. We just replaced a dishwasher with a middle of the road uses about 1/3 the water of the 15-year old model we had.

This country is sooo irresponsible with the way we waste water. I do this for a this is not coming from a tree-hugging point of view. Spend any time in the southwest or even in other will see just how precious water can be. Does not cost anything to save a little bit of water. For relatively low-dollar investment, you can save a great deal of water. You would also be amazed at how beneficial even reducing the timing of your water usage during the day is to a water system. Peak demand times put stress on production wells and groundwater recharge systems. Running dishwashers, washing machines, and showers in off peak times does help.

Doing just one of these things at every house can help.

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Posted by Derek
a resident of Danville
on Feb 3, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Like many of the water wasting crops grown in our inland areas, lawns are a huge problem. But finding a good replacement is not all that easy. Maybe the fake grass, but how long it really lasts is open to debate - and it's not cheap for a large front or back yard.
Thyme is one possible solution, but most varieties tend to spread quite slow. And buying enough to cover a large area will break the bank.
I know some people will suggest rock gardens (ala JP's southwest reference above, where residents typically have to forgo grass), but what to do with all the spots in between? Bark chips haven't worked well for us, because it's very difficult to get leaves out of them. Rock, like marble sized quartz, sinks after a while and good ol' Morgan's Masonry is hardly a cheap source. In fact they are hideously expensive.
Anything taller than grass or thyme is also hard to clean up, and any ground cover over 3" encourages rodents. So a good, or even mediocre, solution still evades us.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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