Los Banos

Water Worries: Fighting drought one glass at a time

Restaurant owner Michael Amabile of Espana’s and his staff are doing their part to save water. Employees at Espana’s Southwest Bar and Grill are serving water on request.

“That’s really all we can do to try and use less water here,” he said.

Los Banos has not issued any mandatory water restrictions yet, but City Manager Steve Carrigan said the city is asking residents to do their best to cut back.

“If we don’t see rain for a few weeks, we will put a flier in utility bills to list ways they can save,” he added. Utility bills go out to 11,000 customers.

On Jan. 17, Gov. Jerry Brown directed state officials to take all necessary action to prepare and assist farmers and communities that are economically impacted by dry conditions.

Amabile, who has been in the restaurant business for more than 40 years, said he has experienced five droughts but nothing as severe as this one. “It’s different now, there’s so many more people, more environmental regulations, and our water is being pulled from a lot of different areas,” he said.

He encourages other businesses to do their part even before restrictions become mandatory. “The biggest thing is make sure you don’t have any dripping faucets,” he said. “It’s an easy thing to fix.”

Water monitors are keeping one eye on the sky and the other on the Sierra snowpack.

“On Jan. 1, the Sierra snowpack was only 20 percent of normal,” said Jim Dudley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford. He said the snowpack is measured each month by the California Department of Water Resources. The snow survey is intended to measure snow depth and water content in the northern Sierra, a region crucial to statewide water supplies.

The next measurements will be taken on Feb. 1.

“It will certainly be lower than 20 percent,” he said. “No snow has fallen during the month of January.”

And there’s no rainfall in the forecast.

“It was almost a normal water year through Jan. 20 of last year,” he said. “It rained early last year. This year we can’t even get started.”

The National Weather Service considers a precipitation drought to be two to three consecutive years of below average rainfall. The Climate Prediction Center is looking at only a 40 percent chance of precipitation for most of the state between February and April.

The Central California Irrigation District is planning for 75 percent of its allotment, and is working on the district’s 10-year water conservation program, according to its agenda. CCID officials were at a Mid-Pacific Region Water Users Conference in Reno did not return calls seeking information for this story.

The Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the nation, is bracing for the wost. “We are definitely affected by the drought conditions,” said Gayle Holman, public affairs representative. “We are preparing our growers for an initial zero percent water allocation.”

The district should know exact numbers by next month from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In 2009, the district was also facing a zero percent initial water allocation.

“That was devastating,” she said. “You can’t operate on zero percent. We saw many of the farming community greatly hindered.”

Holman said growers were faced with leaving land idle or just didn’t plant.

“Some growers used groundwater to help bridge what they needed or tried to purchase on the open market, which is extremely expensive,” she said.

Farmers ended up getting 10 percent allotted to them.

The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority operates and maintains federally owned water facilities south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and represents 28 member agencies. All water that goes to the CCID runs through the water authority’s canals.

“We greatly appreciate the governor declaring the emergency earlier rather than later,” said policy administrator Ara Azhderian. The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority is focusing on how regulatory requirements can be rebalanced.

“We are also working with others to figure out how we can bring more financial resources to the west to help communities that are going to be hurting throughout this year,” he said. If it does rain, we want to capture as much water as possible to deliver to families and farms through the Westside and the rest of the state.”