San Joaquin Valley lawmakers seek drought declaration

jholland@modbee.comDecember 12, 2013 

— Eight state lawmakers from the San Joaquin Valley have sent a letter asking Gov. Jerry Brown to proclaim a drought emergency.

The bipartisan group did not detail how the state might deal with a possible third straight year of below-average rain and snow, but it did make clear that the stakes are high.

“The water forecast for next year is looking especially grim,” the letter said, “and we believe that we are facing the realistic possibility of experiencing true drought conditions that we have not seen since the mid 1970s, when California experienced the driest two years in state history.”

The senators signing it include Republicans Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte, who represents parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. Signers from the Assembly include Democrat Adam Gray of Merced and Republican Frank Bigelow of Madera, whose district covers much of the central Sierra Nevada.

Many water users do not need a governor’s declaration to know that a drought is on. Farmers in parts of the west and south Valley face the possibility of no water next year from the federal Central Valley Project. The State Water Project has announced a tentative allocation of 5percent of contracted water.

Other areas are faring somewhat better. The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts have not had major cutbacks, but they are concerned about reduced storage in Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River. The Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts had enough Stanislaus River water this year to do sales to the west and south Valley, but they too are watching the sky.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made the state’s last drought proclamation in 2008. It directed managers to look for ways to get more water from the relatively wetter northern part of the state to areas in need. It also called for increased water conservation and for federal aid to stricken areas.

That drought went into 2009. The next year was above average for rain and snow, and 2011 was even wetter. The reservoir storage from those years helped ease the effects of the below-average years that followed.

The Brown administration reported last month on efforts it has undertaken even without a new drought proclamation. These include more conservation and a directive to ease the way for water sales among agencies.

The Valley lawmakers warned of groundwater overdraft, idled farmland and other hardships that could lie ahead. They urged Brown to take steps “to ensure that adequate water can be captured during what little snowpack and precipitation the state may see over the first few months of next year.”

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209)578-2385.

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