Though recent rains soaked Davis and much of California, they weren’t enough to solve California’s water problems.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a state of drought emergency in California on Feb. 27.
The snowpack is currently at 90 percent of normal, while precipitation is close to 100 percent. Experts say that though these levels are close to normal, low levels in the past few years mean there probably won’t be enough water to meet the state’s needs this year.
The target snowpack level is 120 percent of average. The target is what state water officials estimate is needed by next month to fill the state’s major reservoirs.
The governor also issued an executive order that calls for urban water users to immediately reduce their individual water use by 20 percent. It also directs the Department of Water Resources to take various actions, including offering technical assistance to agricultural water suppliers and agricultural water users and expediting water transfers between agencies, offering water management assistance to the agriculture industry.
“Given the drought situation, the governor felt it was a really important executive order to make,“ said Lisa Page, a spokesperson for the governor. “He leaves the door open for changes to his plan in the future since the DWR needs to do an updated report on the drought conditions and water availability on Mar. 30.“
According to the proclamation, if the emergency conditions do not improve, there could be mandatory water rationing or reductions in water use.
“Southern California is actually a lot better at being more efficient with water because it’s usually a lot shorter there,“ said UC Davis biometeorology specialist Richard Synder. “Water metering helps to encourage this efficiency because with your water use being measured you are able to have more of an idea about your impact on overall supply.“
Another problem with the rain seems to be timing, and the fact that not all of the water can be used for agriculture or drinking water.
“The rain came late this year, and canals are only so big,“ Synder said. “Not only do the canals overflow, but there is also the issue of the water running off into rivers. By law a certain amount has to go into the [San Francisco] Bay to flush out the salt to maintain a healthy environment.“
Another problem is that the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has limited use for water exports because of the listing the Delta smelt fish on the endangered species list.
New technologies are also a part of the proclamation. Schwarzenegger is offering to streamline the regulatory approval process for projects related to drought relief or increasing water supply, such as desalination and water recycling plants.
“We will be adapting noisily to climate change,“ said UC Davis civil and environmental engineering professor Jay Lund in an e-mail interview. “The biggest problem is likely to be inevitable failure of many Delta levees with sea level rise.“
Others say the situation is variable.
“We have to wait and see what happens,“ said DWR information officer Amy North. “Reaching the [120 percent precipitation] goal becomes less and less likely with no precipitation. There could be rain later in the week.“
The proclamation says 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.
Additional steps of the proclamation include an order for the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to offer job training and financial aid to unemployed workers primarily in agricultural areas. State agencies need to immediately enact water conservation measures in facilities and landscaping.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.