Water Agencies Brace for Third Dry Year, Urge Californians to Conserve
Sacramento, CA – Governor Jerry Brown issued a drought declaration today, an action that formalizes the severity of ongoing, record-breaking dry conditions. 2013 was recorded as the driest year in California’s history, and water levels in all of the state’s major reservoirs are below historical averages. San Luis Reservoir, for example, is at just 31 percent of capacity.
These conditions have resulted in many water agencies, cities and counties across the state issuing mandatory and voluntary water conservation measures. The drought heightens the importance of amplifying conservation, increasing local water supply development efforts and modernizing statewide water infrastructure. In Governor Brown’s declaration he calls on all Californians reduce their water use by 20 percent.
“The drought is official now, but we’ve been struggling with dry conditions for the past two years,” said Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors. “We support the Governor’s call to increase conservation and we encourage all Californians to reduce water use wherever and whenever possible. Public water agencies throughout the state are taking actions locally to conserve and manage limited supplies, but it’s imperative that we also modernize our statewide water delivery system so we can be better prepared for droughts.”
In light of California’s frequent and prolonged dry spells, California’s water delivery system needs to be modernized in a way that allows us to capture water when it’s available. The few times storms came through last year, we missed the opportunity to capture and store water because regulatory restrictions required excess water to flow out to the San Francisco Bay, rather than into storage facilities. For example, in late 2012 and early 2013, storms came through that would have replenished South of Delta reservoirs, but because of environmental restrictions, the state was unable to capture 800,000 acre feet of water. That amount of water would have served roughly 1.5 million households for one year.
“When we experience drought conditions like these, it underscores the need for reliable infrastructure that allows for the flexibility to capture and save water that can be used during excessively dry times,” added Erlewine.
Plans are underway to overhaul the state’s water delivery system using today’s technology. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is being developed so that water agencies would have the flexibility to capture excess water during wet times and lessen the impacts of drought.
The BDCP aims to ensure that Californians have a safe, adequate water supply, while also protecting the Delta environment. The plan includes modernizing the state’s primary water delivery system by routing water underground through twin tunnels to the existing pumping facilities, instead of through the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta).
Currently, the state’s water delivery system consists of 100-year old dirt levees that usher water for 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland from the Sierra Nevada Mountains through the Delta; these levees are susceptible to failure in the event of a major earthquake or other natural disaster. Such an event could cause salt water to rush into the Delta, contaminating the drinking water for two-thirds of California.
If the Delta were to see an earthquake during these drought conditions, the impacts would be exacerbated because there wouldn’t be enough freshwater immediately available to flush out the saltwater. If levees were to crumble and salt water were to rush in, the recovery of the water system and Delta environment would be prolonged and this important water supply could be undrinkable for a year or more.
“We always conserve water, but it’s even more essential now,” added Erlewine. “Water may still be flowing from our taps but the impacts of this drought will be seen statewide through fallowed farmlands and diminishing water storage—it’s not something to be taken lightly.”
For more information on the drought and current water conditions, please visit www.water.ca.gov. To learn more about conservation programs and ideas, please visit http://www.saveourh2o.org/. For more information about the BDCP, please visit www.baydeltaconservationplan.com.