California Drought Emergency Declared by Gov. Brown

California Drought

On Friday Governor Jerry Brown issued a declaration of a drought emergency in the state of California stating that, “We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation.”  Brown further asked businesses and residents alike to voluntarily cut down on their water usage by 20 percent, adding that “we have to do our part.”

The state’s problems stem from the fact that it has had what could be a record low amount of rainfall.  Out of 119 years of records, last year was the driest.  Some of the areas which reported very low rainfall for last year include: the Gasquet Ranger Station in Del Norte County, which received only 43.46 inches of rain last year, compared to its usual average of 100 inches; Sacramento, which received 5.74 inches, instead of its usual 18 inches; and downtown Los Angeles, which received only 3.4 inches, compared to its average of 14.74 inches.  In fact, Los Angeles beat its previous record low of 4.08 inches, which was set in 1953.  It was a record-setting year for San Francisco as well;  it had its lowest recorded rainfall since it began keeping tabs during the 1849 gold rush.

By declaring a drought emergency, the California governor made it easier for agencies to move water from one area to another to help with shortages.  In addition, the state will be able to hire more firefighters, limit highway landscaping and increase public awareness of the problem.

While California state lawmakers and residents have been pushing for the drought emergency declaration for a few weeks now, the tipping point finally came when the first Sierra snowpack measurement of the season was made on January 10.  The northern Sierra snowpack is only eight percent of normal for this time of the year, while the central Sierra is only 16 percent of normal and the southern Sierra is on 22 percent of normal.  The snowpack is important because it behaves as the largest and most reliable reservoir of the state’s water supply.

One very important area where a drought will affect the state is in agriculture.  More than 75 percent of California’s water use comes from this sector.  Without enough water for crops and grass, farmers are forced to leave their land unplanted and cattle ranchers must buy hay to feed their herds.

In a statement thanking Brown for his declaration of a state of emergency, Tom Nassif, the CEO and president of Western Growers, stated that drought conditions were already “wreaking havoc” on California farmers, especially in the San Joaquin Valley.  “The situation is dire and requires the full attention of state and federal leaders…,”  he added.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture made an announcement on Wednesday stating that counties in 11 states, including California, qualified as primary natural disaster areas.  Other states on the list were Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.  This announcement means that affected farmers will be able to receive low-interest emergency loans through the USDA.

Brown has prior experience dealing with droughts in the state.   During his previous tenure as governor, he oversaw one of the most severe dry spells of the previous century, which occurred during 1976 and 1977.

Speaking to reporters about the situation, Brown jokingly said that he didn’t know if he had kept his notebook from 1977.  However, he added that the state won’t hesitate to allocate whatever resources are necessary to deal with the problem, comparing the drought to a house on fire, where it costs money to fight the fire, but it is done because it is necessary.

The last declaration of a drought emergency was during 2008 and 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. In 2011, Brown lifted that declaration due to a wet winter.

By Nancy Schimelpfening


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