Just how bad is the drought in California? Unless measures are taken to drastically reduce water consumption, there is actually a danger the some towns and cities could run out of drinkable water within 100 days.
To underscore the seriousness of the crisis, Governor Jerry Brown announced that the state agency responsible for allocating water — the California Department of Water Resources — will take the unprecedented step of not giving out water this summer from the State Water Project, a system that serves two thirds of the state’s population.
Department Director Mark Cowin said at a news conference that if the dry spell continues, only carryover water from last year will be channeled to the farmers and several towns that get their water from the State Water Project. Those users will have to rely on groundwater, local reservoirs and other supplies.
“Everyone – farmers, fish, people in our cities and towns – will get less water as a result, but these actions will protect us all better in the long run,” Cowin said. “Simply put, there is not enough water to go around, so we need to conserve.”
Threat of running out
The announcement comes after state health officials said 17 communities and water districts are in danger of running out of water within 100 days, including Cloverdale and Healdsburg.
The list is expected to grow.
The snowpack in the Sierra is 12 percent of normal for this time of year, the lowest since the state began keeping snowpack records in 1960. California wildlife officials banned fishing in several rivers to protect salmon and steelhead trout.
California’s other large water management system, the federally run Central Valley Project, is expected to announce allocations in mid-February. The Central Valley Project irrigates more than 3 million acres of farmland, provides drinking water to nearly 2 million people and serves as a critical water source for fish and wildlife.
With its reservoirs also running low, contractors of the federal water system are bracing for low to no allocations. Those federally managed reservoirs included Shasta Reservoir north of Redding, which is at 36 percent of capacity, and Folsom Lake, which is at 17 percent, enabling visitors to see a previously submerged abandoned town from the 19th century.
The State Water Project’s largest reservoir, Lake Oroville in Butte County, is at 36 percent of capacity.
With two-thirds of the wet season having passed, there is little hope that enough rain and snow will fall to lift California out of the crisis.
“The state would have to experience heavy rainfall and snowfall every other day through May to get back to average precipitation levels,” Cowin said.
Bay Area water agency officials said they planned for the worst, but this is “worse than the worst,” said Robert Shaver, assistant general manager for the Alameda County Water District, one of four Bay Area agencies that gets its water supply from the State Water Project.
Some practical water saving tips from the state include flushing your toilet less and avoiding “long solo showers.”
I predict a mini-baby boom about a year from now. Conjugal showers are a fun way to save water.
What isn’t fun is that the most productive farm land in the world is in danger of not getting enough water to grow its crops. Irrigating a desert has been one of the truly miraculous achievements of California farmers (with a lot of help from the Feds). But, as Californians are discovering, a desert is a very dry place and while the drought may be unprecedented, the state’s history only goes back 160 years. How many droughts like this — and worse — have been visited on the land now known as California in the distant past? Too many to count, I’m sure.
That doesn’t help matters today. One hopes that nature gives Californians a break and the rain begins to fall. But that doesn’t seem likely, so the reservoirs will continue to fall and ever more stringent restrictions on water usage will probably become necessary.