Politics & Government

State water officials considering drought declaration

The California Department of Water Resources is planning to draft an emergency drought declaration for Gov. Jerry Brown’s consideration as dry winter conditions continue.

DWR Director Mark Cowin told the California Board of Food and Agriculture at a meeting Tuesday that his agency is weighing whether to present the governor with a drought declaration. Spokeswoman Nancy Foley said that declaration could be forthcoming “within a couple weeks.”

“We will likely, given the circumstances, make a recommendation for a drought declaration,” Foley said. “The snow survey last Friday was so dismal and there doesn’t seem to be any storms on the horizon, so it just seems we’ve got to start preparing a drought declaration.”

She was referring to the first regular snow survey of the winter season, conducted by DWR on Jan. 3 at locations throughout the Sierra Nevada. It found the snowpack at 19 percent of average on that date. In the five days since, the snowpack has shrunk to 17 percent.

This comes after two dry years, which left many reservoirs in the state depleted. Folsom Reservoir in the Sacramento area was at 18 percent of capacity on Tuesday. Water agencies that depend on the reservoir have begun enacting water conservation orders. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has cut flows into the American River to levels not seen in 20 years.

Tonight, the San Juan Water District will consider asking customers to stop all outdoor watering and begin efforts to cut indoor water use in half. The district serves a number of suburban communities that draw water from Folsom Reservoir, including Roseville, Granite Bay, Orangevale and Folsom. If dry conditions continue, the so-called “Stage 5” drought restrictions, the most severe category, likely would become mandatory in February.

Many agricultural areas also are experiencing water shortages, particularly the San Joaquin Valley, where the lack of precipitation has depleted groundwater wells.

California has been affected by a persistent high-pressure ridge looming over the Pacific Ocean that has blocked storms from entering the state. Long-range forecasts suggest the dry trend will continue for the balance of January. This means two months that are normally among the wettest for the state will have produced next to nothing in terms of precipitation.

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