Politics & Government

Gov. Brown to declare California drought emergency

Gov. Jerry Brown will declare a drought emergency today after weeks of intensifying pressure on him to take action.

The declaration, which Brown is scheduled to announce at 10 a.m. in San Francisco, comes during one of the driest winters on record in California, following two dry years that already have left many reservoirs depleted.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and several state lawmakers began urging Brown last month to declare a drought emergency. Brown appointed a committee to review conditions on the ground.

A formal declaration is considered significant as a public relations tool, increasing awareness among residents and, perhaps, federal officials who could accelerate some relief efforts.

Brown’s office said Thursday that Brown would “make a major announcement” in an appearance today in San Francisco. The administration declined to disclose the nature of the announcement, but sources said Brown was expected to declare a drought.

Brown indicated repeatedly in recent days that he was close to declaring the emergency. Facing calls for a drought declaration while on a two-day swing through inland California this week, Brown said “nobody should discount the seriousness of what we’re facing.”

Still, Brown has suggested the significance of a formal declaration may be overstated.

“I’m trying to understand what physically we can do in the face of this drought, and then legally what steps can I take,” the Democratic governor told reporters in Bakersfield on Tuesday.

Brown said a drought declaration could be helpful, “but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t rain, California’s in for real trouble. And the governor, through a declaration, can’t make it rain.”

Brown managed a drought in the late 1970s, when he was governor before. At the time he called for a 25 percent reduction in personal water use statewide and lobbied Washington for federal aid.

Lawmakers representing drought-stricken districts joined with hundreds of their constituents at the state Capitol on Thursday to press for the declaration of a drought emergency and a new water bond measure.

“I see farmers, I see farmworkers; I see people from urban communities and from rural communities, all here today to send one message: that we need water,” said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno.

A procession of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, most representing the Central Valley, took the podium to issue similar pleas. Many called for money to ensure clean drinking water and for more storage capacity, saying it would offset dry years by allowing the state to capture more water during years of plentiful rain.

“Additional storage is the key,” said Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte. “This year’s drought simply underscores how critical the situation has become.”

A sea of blue signs reading “sin agua = no ay futuro” (no water, no future) or some variation surrounded the speakers, highlighting the California Latino Water Coalition’s role in organizing the rally.

“2014 is going to be one of California’s worst water supply years in recent history,” said Mario Santoyo, director of the coalition. He called the shortfall an issue not just for reduced food production, “but more importantly for those that are here, the issue is that when there is no water, there’s no jobs.”

The rally came as a lack of snow and rain continues to parch most of California, with nearly 90 percent of the state experiencing severe drought conditions. The Sacramento City Council recently voted to require users to cut back water use by 20 percent to 30 percent.

Lawmakers moved an $11.1 billion bond measure to the statewide ballot back in 2009 but have since delayed the vote twice. Some argue that the bond is too costly and bloated to win voter approval. A pair of alternative proposals, one in the Senate and one in the Assembly, reflect that skepticism.

Both Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, are seeking to get a smaller bond on the 2014 ballot. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, voiced his support Wednesday for voters to act in 2014.

When asked last week, Brown declined to say whether he supports a water bond going to the 2014 ballot.

Any substantial revision of the bond measure passed in 2009 would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and Brown’s approval.

Dry conditions have heightened awareness of water-related issues from the San Joaquin Valley to the state’s coastal population centers in recent weeks, and many water districts are enacting conservation orders.

University of California President Janet Napolitano on Thursday announced a systemwide goal of reducing per-capita water use by 20 percent by 2020.

She said in a prepared statement that the UC “is prepared to play a leadership role in response to California’s current water crisis by demonstrating water sustainability solutions to the rest of the state.”

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