Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

Visitors at Folsom Reservoir on Dec. 27 experience the long walk to the shoreline due to the low water level.

Editorial: Water situation is dire, requires action

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 - 12:00 am

Plan for a dry 2014 – so parched that extraordinary measures are needed now.

California depends on a few winter storms in the Sierra Nevada between October and April for its water supplies, and they just haven’t happened. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is only 20 percent of normal, as reported by the state Department of Water Resources on Friday. The last time California’s statewide snowpack was this dry was in 2012, when it also was 20 percent of normal.

The situation in our region already is dire for communities that depend on American River water stored in Folsom Reservoir, which is at 19 percent of capacity. This immediately affects more than 500,000 people, including those living in Folsom, Roseville and Granite Bay.

The San Juan Water District, which serves 265,000 customers in Granite Bay and portions of Roseville, Folsom and Orangevale, has issued an urgent report. If current trends continue, water levels at Folsom Reservoir will drop below intake pipes by April or May. That is, those pipes will be sucking air.

The water district already has been urging residents to conserve water since August. Clearly, that’s not enough.

“With the low lake levels,” the general manager writes, “it is now time to start considering water rationing.”

This is the staff recommendation, which goes to the board for action on Wednesday:

• In January, ask people to refrain from outdoor irrigation, which accounts for more than half of residential use of water.

• If the forecast remains dry in February, initiate a Stage 5 Long-Term Water Emergency, the highest level of water alert, using February as the month to educate people.

• If the forecast remains dry in March, begin stringent implementation of all aspects of State 5 Water Emergency – including prohibiting landscape irrigation, reducing indoor use by 50 percent, prohibiting installation of new turf, allowing no new water connections to the district system and implementing tiered water pricing as an incentive to reduce water use.

Other communities that have groundwater supplies are in a better situation, including the Sacramento Suburban Water District, Sacramento County and the city of Sacramento.

But at the American River Water Forum meeting on Friday, all of the region’s water agencies indicated they will recommend ramping up water conservation alerts to higher levels.

Even the city of Sacramento, which gets water from the Sacramento River and the Sacramento Valley Groundwater Basin in addition to the American River, should activate its Water Shortage Conservation Plan at the Jan. 14 City Council meeting. Those with greater flexibility in water supplies should be helping others.

As Kerry Schmitz, principal civil engineer at Sacramento County’s Department of Water Resources, has said, “This is an unprecedented situation, exceeding even the conditions in 1976-77. While we hope that the area receives some significant rainfall over the next few months, it continues to be critical for everyone in the region to work individually and collectively to conserve water.”

At the statewide level, groundwater is a major issue. It is being pumped out faster than it can be replenished, especially in the Central Valley. Yet the state does not monitor and regulate groundwater.

In his mid-1970s term as governor, Jerry Brown had a blue-ribbon commission look at the state’s water law, with a major focus on “the failure to control or manage groundwater use.” Though the commission’s 264-page report in 1978 concluded that “groundwater problems have become critical,” University of California Davis professor Harrison Dunning later wrote that “Gov. Jerry Brown did nothing to try to get the proposals enacted into law.”

He should remedy that now.

In his State of the State address last January, Brown referred to the biblical tale of Joseph, with the seven-year cycle of feast and famine. Just as he urged lawmakers to break the financial cycle of boom and bust, he ought to urge Californians in 2014 and beyond to live within our means with water.

What you can do

Find out who your water provider is and how you can conserve water at www.bewatersmart.info

Read more articles by the Editorial Board



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