Mendocino Co. declares drought emergency

Gov. Brown has yet to declare a drought emergency, but state water leaders said California should prepare for a drought worse than 1977.
January 8, 2014 1:03:51 AM PST
Catholic bishops are praying for divine intervention. That's because reservoirs are at historic lows coming off of the state's driest year on record and we're still bone dry so far in 2014. It is not just rain they are hoping for, but snow as well.

Donner Ski Ranch is closed. On their webpage, the resort says slopes are bare and they too are asking people to pray for snow.

Meanwhile, it is so dry in Mendocino County leaders there have now declared a drought emergency. This is the first step for requiring water conservation. People living in suburban Sacramento could soon be banned from watering their lawns.

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Reclamation cut water releases from Folsom dam into the American River, dropping its elevation by half a foot.

In Sacramento on Tuesday morning, there were no prayers, but strong calls from local water managers for the governor to exercise his power to declare our lack of rain a statewide emergency.

From Fresno to far Northern California, water managers up and down California are sounding the alarm -- official or not, a drought has arrived.

"The drought is real. We can wait and take another snow survey in February or in March, but I can tell you right now that all the indications are telling us that we're headed into a possible year that's even worse than 1977," said Gary Serrato from the Fresno Irrigation District.

Gov. Jerry Brown has not officially declared a drought yet in California, but he did form a drought task force last month.

"The need for a drought proclamation is being assessed now. We meet again this coming Thursday, the information's coming together from all the various state agencies on the impact of these dry conditions as well as what their needs might be," said Bill Croyle from the California Department of Water Resources.

State water officials say the governor is keenly aware of the dire situation facing California, including reservoirs like Folsom that now sits at just 18 percent of capacity, with little snowpack above it and no rain in sight.

"It's very serious," said David Guy, with the Northern California Water Association. "I think what we're seeing now is this convergence of hydrology, low reservoir levels, low inflow into those reservoirs and of course no storms in sight. So bottom line is the state has to take this very seriously."

Some Northern California water districts have already imposed mandatory conservation measures on their customers. Many others are expected to follow suit.

Agriculture industry already feeling effects of drought

The lack of rain is causing all of the grass to dry up and that's hurting the agriculture industry from cattle ranchers to horse owners.

Tracy Underwood owns the Santa Rosa Equestrian Center. She told us, "When we purchased this property nine years ago, we were paying $9 a bail. Hay is over $20 a bail now."

So Underwood began growing her own drought-proof feed for the more than 100 horses at her stable.

"Each tray will be a biscuit as it's called," said Underwood.

Barley seeds are germinated in a temperature and light-controlled locker for six days until they become lush fodder. Underwood says it's more nutritious than hay and it saves them $200 a day.

"We found it really kept him hydrated and kept things moving in his intestine," said Katie Kunde, a horse owner.

"A lot of barns have gone out of business in the last three years with the hay increase," said Underwood.

So with the cost savings and the higher nutritional value, it makes you wonder why more stables don't switch to this.

"Well, you know people are don't like change. That is the primary reason," said Underwood.

But as water consumption increases and supply decreases, Underwood believes the agriculture industry will have to change to more drought-proof methods in order to survive.

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