Governor declares Calif. drought emergency

February 27, 2009 6:45:51 PM PST
The California water situation has just gone from a shortage to a crisis. Despite the recent rain, we're in a third year of drought. So on Friday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California has declared a state of emergency.

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On top of all the other measures, it is a call for voluntary conservation of 20 percent for those that live in California cities and perhaps more to follow. This is the magnified consequences from a third year of drought when reservoirs are historic low levels and the snowpack is low, as well.

By declaring a state of emergency, Governor Schwarzenegger officially puts Californians on notice of a water shortage that many agencies had already called dire.

It gives the Department of Water Resources more authority to move and transfer water around the state to places where they need it. They'll move the water where it protects agriculture, which could lose $3 billion to the drought, in 2009 in a worst-case scenario.

And, this move authorizes an emergency plan for affected people and communities. He described it as being as much of a crisis as an earthquake or raging wildfire. As part of it, he has ordered another report by the end of March. If conditions do not improve significantly, he will consider additional steps, including mandatory conservation.

Locally, the Bay Area has already experienced voluntary cutbacks from East Bay MUD to Sonoma County, Santa Clara County, and by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which serves two and a half million people. For them, the situation is a little better.

"In our case, we have asked our customers for a 10 percent cut. That's what we need to avoid rationing this summer. Our customers are meeting that so far this year, but we'll welcome a 20 percent cut because every bit helps. It is a drought," says Tony Winnicker, from the S.F. Public Utilities Commission.

This drought is very significant no matter how much rain seems to have fallen in the last month. The governor's office says that one of the reasons it made this move was to stay ahead of the problem. He says he has considered using rock barriers in various places in the delta to keep the bay water out.

The governor blamed much of this shortage on an inadequate water system that serves the population. He noted that nine million people have moved to California since the last drought in 1991 and that the state is not keeping up.

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