After conducting the first snow survey of the season, the California Department of Water Resources recently reported, that the Sierra Nevada snowpack is only at 20 percent of average, and 10 percent of average in the northern mountains, home to some of the largest water storage reservoirs in the state.
To add insult to injury, the Department of Water Resources announced that it expects to only provide five percent of the water obligated to public water agencies for the 2014 calendar year. What they really meant to say is that we’re looking at a 95 percent cut to the public. How many of us could afford to sacrifice that level of reduction to our incomes, our air, our food? Water is as essential if not more so.
Even with the thousands of water conservation programs our communities have participated in the past decade, unless we have some significant rainfall in the coming months it might not be enough to offset the economic impact that residents and our business community will face in California. While conservation must be stepped up, we must first have water to conserve. It is disingenuous to suggest we can conserve our way out of this crisis or avoid the serious consequences of maintaining the status quo.
This is already becoming a reality. The day after the five percent water allocation was announced, the San Diego City Council voted to increase water rates by 15 percent over the next two years for homeowners, 20 percent for individuals living in apartments, and 24 percent for construction and irrigation users.
A number of factors have conspired to hurt Californians and our economy. Among them, the state is experiencing yet another drought year. Furthermore, California’s 50 year-old water infrastructure system has fallen woefully behind the state’s population growth. Compounding this into an immediate crisis is an environmental policy that requires more and more water to be pumped into the ocean to protect endangered salmon and Delta smelt fish without viable scientific evidence that these measures are actually helping the fish. These extreme requirements have prevented the CDWR and the Department of Interior from having more water in storage and are directly responsible for the draconian measures now being taken.
The only remedy offering any relief to millions of Californians is for our Governor and President to join the more then fifty-five California lawmakers including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Congressman and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and Republican State leaders Bob Huff and Connie Conway by declaring a state drought emergency.
Some are not waiting for the Governor. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors earlier this week voted unanimously to declare a local emergency “and imminent threat of disaster” from drought conditions.
One of that county’s supervisors, Carre Brown, said the reason for establishing a local emergency plan is that it would make it easier to get help from the California Office of Emergency Services, and “hopefully we can also cause some of the state regulations and laws to be relaxed a bit.”
This commonsense suggestion needs to be applied statewide – and not just county-by-county. This is why the Governor needs to exercise leadership – first by calling for a drought emergency which will allow him the executive authority to provide emergency services to California residents and provide maximum flexibility to the State Water Project. But to create real water relief, he must follow that up by calling on the federal government to join him in a systematic review of existing laws and regulations with an eye toward finding the legal authority to free up more water, take advantage of any late winter storms and place a moratorium on any new regulations that will restrict or drive up the cost of California’s water.
Inaction will cripple hard working people of California and undermine a rebound of California’s fragile economic recovery.
Aubrey Bettencourt is the Executive Director of the California Water Alliance. The California Water Alliance is an educational non-profit, non –partisan organization with over 4,000 members focused on providing comprehensive water solutions to California.