“The history of California water is the history of droughts…Droughts motivate us to do stuff,” says Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. On Friday, Governor of California Jerry Brown announced he is ready to “do stuff.”
Brown declared that California is officially in a statewide drought emergency. His pronouncement comes during one of California’s driest winters on record. As a result of this and after two previous years of diminished rainfall, reservoirs have reached undesirable levels. Therefore, Brown is advocating that all residents reduce water usage by 20%. “We ought to be ready for a long, continued, persistent effort to restrain our water use,” the Governor stated.
California farmers hailed Brown’s action as welcome news. “Farmers across California face wrenching decisions today, as well as in coming months,” Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, acknowledged in a statement. “Will they have enough water to plant crops, to water their livestock, and keep trees and vines alive?” Wenger asked.
Although the governor’s 20-point drought declaration does not require mandatory rationing yet, there will be a statewide conservation campaign and a program to help direct water flow from rights holders to districts in need. Moreover, state agencies will make efforts to minimize the effects of water shortages on agriculture, communities, and fish and wildlife.
This is the 13th emergency drought proclamation since 1987, equating to about one every other year. These proclamations are usually confined to only one part of the state. The last statewide drought declaration was in 2009, issued by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Politicians also applauded Brown’s decisions and plan on making sure they promote their pet projects. As former Obama adminsitartion Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste, what I mean by that it is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” The drought announcement by Brown is prompting lawmakers from California’s Central Valley to call for more water storage projects.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is pushing for an $11-billion water bond for the fall ballot and is calling on the state to use significant capital resources available from prior state bonds. Moreover, Brown’s actions have reinvigorated proponents of a $25 billion project to re-plumb the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. Advocates say the project would help avert future water shortages.
Nevertheless, Governor Brown believes that the drought is not a political phenomenon. He stated at the news conference in San Francisco, “This is not a partisan adversary. This is Mother Nature.” Brown added, “We have to get on nature’s side and not abuse the resources that we have.”