Politics & Government

Brown says he is monitoring drought but says ‘governors can’t make it rain’

Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday that he is closely monitoring the state’s worsening drought, but suggested that a drought emergency declaration was not imminent.

“Governors can’t make it rain,” Brown told reporters at the state Capitol. A state water task force is working on the issue, he said, and “I’m very aware of the problems of the drought.”

California is in its third consecutive dry year and many reservoirs are at a fraction of their capacities. Last week, a Department of Water Resources snow survey found that the Sierra Nevada snowpack was a fifth of the average for that date. Some water agencies and other local governments, meanwhile, have imposed rules against outdoor watering, while others are considering such measures as well as asking residents to conserve voluntarily.

Folsom Dam, the source of water for about 500,000 Sacramento-area residents, is at just 18 percent of capacity, prompting officials to reduce flows into the American River. Other major reservoirs in the state also are well below capacity, including Lake Shasta (37 percent), Lake Oroville (37 percent) and San Luis Reservoir (29 percent), according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

In November, the State Water Project released initial allocation levels for state water contractors of only 5 percent. That is among the lowest initial allocations ever, and equal to the allocations during the 2007-2009 drought, which posed major hardships for the state’s agricultural industry.

Brown, whose first term as governor included a bad drought year in 1977, said the state will take “whatever steps we can, in collaboration with the state’s farmers ... and also the urban people have to do their part.”

Last year was the driest in 119 years of keeping records, and the dry conditions are projected to continue through January; three-quarters of the state’s rain normally falls from November through March. Earlier this week, California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin told the state Board of Food and Agriculture that his agency might present the governor with a drought declaration.

“But don’t think that a paper from the Governor’s Office is going to affect the rain,” Brown told reporters. “We are doing what we can do in terms of water exchanges and we’ll do other things as we get down the road. That seems to be probably enough, from my point of view.”