California Governor Brown: State Of Emergency Declaration Due To “Alarming Level” of Water Supplies
In the midst of the driest year on record, California Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency and called on all Californians to conserve water. As of December 31st, the U.S. Drought Monitor categorized all of California as in a state of either severe or extreme drought [PDF].
In the State of Emergency declaration, Governor Brown directed state officials to assist farmers and communities that are economically impacted by dry conditions and to ensure the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages. The Governor also directed state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters and initiated a greatly expanded water conservation public awareness campaign (details at saveourh2o.org).
The Department of Water Resources says that California’s river and reservoir water levels are near or below their record lows. The most recent snow survey [PDF] across the Sierra Nevada shows statewide water content at about 20 percent of normal for this time of year. In December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force [PDF] to review expected water allocations, California’s preparedness for water scarcity and whether conditions merit a drought declaration.
Even if the snow starts falling soon, record-breaking snowfalls will be needed to overcome water deficits from the preceding two years. Reservoirs across the state, which are largely fed by snowmelt, continue to operate far below capacity. Oroville Reservoir (pictured), for example, a key reservoir on the Feather River which supplies cities and farms is currently filled to just 18% capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Folsom Reservoir on the American River near Sacramento, recently reduced river flows below the dam to less than half of what is normal for this time of year and the lowest in more than two decades.
Already, more than 10 percent of salmon nests (aka “redds”), each of which can hold thousands of incubating eggs, have been exposed by the low river levels, killing the eggs. Spawning grounds for salmon and other native fish are at risk of desiccation in many of the state’s rivers this year, raising the concern that this year’s batch of juvenile fish will be dramatically reduced. If this occurs, we will see the echo of this year’s drought every three or four years as the descendants of the salmon that survived this drought return from the ocean to spawn – hopefully under much better conditions!