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County proclaims drought emergency

County proclaims drought emergency


California has been fighting over water since it became a state in 1850. Once called “blue gold” for its value to both agriculture and development interests, water is our most precious resource and now is also our most scarce.

Andrew Lockman of the County’s Health and Human Services Agency, put the drought in historical perspective last week during a presentation at the Jan. 28 Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting. Lockman said the current drought is officially the worst since 1976-77 and 2013 was the driest year since California began keeping records 119 years ago. As California enters a third dry year, the state’s major reservoirs are diminished and the crucial

Sierra Nevada snowpack – which melts to supply roughly a third of the water used statewide – was recently measured at a scant 12 percent of statewide average water content for this time of year.

“There is some research indicating it may be the worst drought in 500 years,” Lockman said.

Lockman made his comments prior to the Supervisors’ vote to proclaim a local emergency due to drought. The meeting came just a few days after the California Department of Water Resources announced customers of the State Water Project (SWP) will get no deliveries in 2014 if current dry conditions persist, with the exception of a small amount of carryover water from 2013 and agricultural districts with long-standing contracts.

“There has never been a federal declaration of an emergency for a drought until now,” said Lockman, referring an announcement earlier that day by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make $20 million available for agricultural water conservation efforts throughout California.

Lockman also said the Friant-Kern Canal should announce their allocation later this month. He also expects the water allocation to be at or near 0% of the more than 2 million acre feet of water delivered in a normal year. The canal carries water from the Millerton Lake Reservoir on the Fresno-Madera County line to more than 800,000 acres of farmland and several cities in Tulare, Kern and Fresno counties. This includes the City of Lindsay and the community of Strathmore, which rely on surface water for 70% and 100% of their municipal water. Millerton Reservoir was at 35% of capacity as of press time. Lockman said the dry conditions will also have an effect on small water systems managed by the County. As the drought goes on, Lockman said the aging systems will have to work harder and increase the likelihood of equipment failure issues.

“We would need 2-4 inches of rain per week for several weeks just to pull us out of this year’s drought,” Lockman said. “[The drought’s impact] is going to be big and it’s going to be bad.”

Even then, California still would be in a drought, because normally wet December and January have been critically dry – and follow a record dry 2013 and a dry 2012.

Following the report, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously proclaimed a local emergency due to the statewide drought, called for state legislators to place a water bond on a future ballot, and formed an ad hoc committee to address future water advocacy strategy.

Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Phil Cox said the proclamation of local emergency enables Tulare County to recover any future drought response costs and also makes the County eligible for any other drought-related assistance in the future.

“This is a very serious issue that can potentially destroy our local economy,” Chairman Cox said. “The Board would like to encourage everybody to step up and conserve as much water as you can.”

Supervisor Steven Worthley said agriculture surface water allocations will dramatically decrease, meaning farmers will overdraft from dwindling groundwater resources, deepening the water shortage. As water sources continue to dry up, farmers will struggle to keep crops alive. The loss of permanent planting will result in higher unemployment in the County and plummeting property values for citrus farmers along the foothills.

“This is truly a disaster in the making,” Worthley said. “This is a situation where the worst case scenario is highly probably. Thousands of acres of citrus are going to die.”

Supervisor Ishida, a citrus farmer in east Tulare County, said more water storage will help the agriculture industry by preserving water and jobs, both in Tulare County and port cities.

“This drought is going to have a huge impact on the economy for future years,” Supervisor Ishida said. “Forty percent of our crops are exported and sent to the ports in Long Beach in Oakland. This drought will also have an impact on a lot of jobs in the urban areas of the state.”

Supervisor Allen Ishida urged state legislators to place a water bond on a future ballot and include funding for water storage.

“If you want to pass something, you pass it during a crisis,” Supervisor Ishida commented during the meeting. “This is the ideal time to pass a meaningful water bond measure because this water issue affects everybody in the state of California.”

At the conclusion of the Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman Cox announced Supervisor Ishida and Supervisor Steve Worthley will participate in an ad hoc committee to discuss future water advocacy strategy at the state level. The ad hoc committee will provide recommendations to the Board at future meetings.


WAE to host Water Forum


Top City and water agency officials will address California’s historical drought, its anticipated impacts and water supply actions during World Ag Expo’s Water Forum on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 12:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. at the International Agri-Center’s Heritage Complex, 4500 South Laspina St. in Tulare.

High state and federal water representatives will be participating. Governor Brown and Resources Secretary John Laird have also been invited. The master of ceremonies will be KMPH TV news anchor, Rich Rodriguez

As California faces the worst drought in decades, the Central Valley will once again be ground zero for water supply shortages and economic impacts due to the combination of lack of rain, snow, low reservoir levels, major declines in its groundwater levels and the ongoing shifting of its reliable water supplies to the environment. City officials and farmers will discuss their concerns, challenges and will be asking for help from State and Federal Water Departments through a panel moderated by Mario Santoyo, Executive Director of the California Latino Water Coalition.

The World Ag Expo Water Forum will then bring together high level policy and technical representatives from the state and federal governments as well as key water agencies to discuss and answer questions through a panel moderated by Tim Quinn, executive director, Association of California Water Agencies. A number of elected officials are expected to attend. Time will also be devoted for audience questions.


Panel members include:

Mayor Gabriel Jimenez, City of Orange Cove

Mayor Robert Silva, City of Mendota

Shawn Coburn, Farmer

Joe Del Bosque, Farmer

John Harris, Harris Ranch

Mark Watte, Farmer

Manuel Cuhna, Nisei Farmers League

Tom Birmingham, Westlands Water District

Ron Jacobsma, Friant Water Authority

Dan Nelson, Delta Mendota Water Users Authority

Steve Chedester, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors

Steve Haugan, Kings River Water Association

David Murillo, US Bureau of Reclamation, Regional Director Mid Pacific Region

Dorene D’Adamo, California Water Resources Control Board Member


Dry Facts

119 – The number of years with more rain than 2013.
44 – No. of days it would have to rain & snow heavily
12 – % of average Sierra snowpack for 2013.
1 – No. of times a fed disaster was declared for drought.
0 – Central Valley Project Water Allocation % for 2014.

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