February 10, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
As an unprecedented drought in California worsens, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has decided to take a radical measure by withholding water from many of the state’s farmers come spring planting season.
As reported by The New York Times, the decision is impactful and will affect millions:
Responding to one of the worst droughts in California’s history, state officials announced on Friday that they would cut off the water to local agencies serving 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland.
With no end in sight for the dry spell and reservoirs at historic lows, Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said his agency needed to preserve what little water remained so it could be used “as wisely as possible.”
Worst drought in at least 100 years
Reports said it will be the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that allocations of water to all of the public agencies it serves are being cut to zero. And the decision is expected to force 20 local water agencies to look elsewhere for water. Many reportedly have other sources on which they can draw, like local reservoirs and groundwater.
That said, the drought has taken its toll on those supplies as well, the Times reported. Some cities, for example – especially in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area – depend almost entirely on the State Water Project, according to Corwin.
“We’ll always keep basic human health and safety as highest priority,” he said. “We’ll try to meet those needs as best we can.”
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Water District, serving much of the state’s southernmost regions, receives some 30 percent of its water from the State Water Project.
Most farmers served in that region are in Kern County, located at the southern end of the Central Valley. The area is a major source of carrots.
“Our action is intended to keep as much of the remaining water supplies upstream in reservoirs,” Corwin told the Times, “so we have it available for the warm period in the summer and fall.”
The driest year on record in the state occurred last year. And in January, which is normally one of the wettest months, almost no precipitation fell.
Gov. Brown declared a drought emergency for the state last month. And, the Times said, despite a little moisture in a few parts of the state recently, the drought news has only worsened in the couple of weeks since he made his announcement.
“This is the most serious drought we’ve faced in modern times,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, as reported by The Associated Press. “We need to conserve what little we have to use later in the year, or even in future years.”
Calls to cut usage by 20 percent
Currently, state reservoir levels are lower than they were in 1977, which was the last time the state went through such a major drought. And this year, California’s snow pack is only at 12 percent of what is normal for this time of the year. Worse, 17 rural communities are in danger of completely running out of water in just a few more months.
“[My] action is a stark reminder that California’s drought is real,” Brown said in a statement. “We’re taking every possible step to prepare the state for the continuing dry conditions we face.”
Corwin went on to say that there is not enough water to meet the needs of farmers, cities and conservation efforts intended to stave off dwindling populations of salmon and other fish in Northern California.
Brown has called on state residents and businesses to cut back water usage by 20 percent, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.