The Crest Theatre in Downtown Sacramento is use to hosting a movie premiere or a captivating concert, but on Thursday, April 9th over 300 people including legislators, state and federal officials, and the public flowed into the historic theatre to witness something much more important than the latest indie film. In fact, it could have all the makings of a horror or disaster film, but it is for real and a happy ending can’t come soon enough. The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) presented the 2015 Drought Briefing – Four Years and Counting: Impacts and Actions.
By now, we have all heard about the drought and the affects it is having on our state. Just last week Governor Brown issued an executive order urging all Californians to conserve water and mandate statewide water agencies to reduce usage. ACWA pulled together the state’s top water officials to address some of the crucial issues and challenges we may inevitably face. Representatives from Cal OES, the California Natural Resources Agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Water Resources Control Board, Cal FIRE, and California Farm Bureau Federation presented information on what may be expected on water operations, the environment, fire response, agriculture, and water conservation.
“We felt it necessary to bring the public, the thought leaders, the elected officials, and the press together in
order to make them aware of the challenges we face,” said ACWA Deputy Executive Director of External Affairs Jennifer Persike. “It’s going to take all of us to get through this so we want people to understand where we are, what the impacts are, and how they can be a part of the solution, especially when it comes to conserving.”
The session opened with a presentation by Climatologist Michael Anderson, who presented the latest snowpack survey, 6% of normal, the lowest on record. Last year the snowpack at this time was 25% of normal. This means water normally filling streams and reservoirs this time of year will not be coming. In addition, Anderson displayed graphics comparing yearly climate change in the state. Last year was the hottest on record.
“The message today was very clear, we are in a very difficult situation and we have to take action within a complex system and this is everyone’s responsibility,” remarked California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird. “We are trying to get the message out and everybody has to contribute.”
With the governor’s latest order, cities can no longer install ornamental landscaping or yards in new housing developments requiring potable water unless they use drip irrigation. Urban water districts have been mandated to cut usage by 25%. Exactly how the agencies go about meeting these goal remains to be seen, but they are looking at many options.
“This is going to be painful. It is smart to take conservation measures now, because we do not know when this will end,” said Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees water allocations for the state. “We should not be playing Russian roulette with Mother Nature because we will lose.”
Of course you cannot discuss drought without talking about wildfires. While lightning can cause wildfires, most are caused by humans and preventable. “We are already on track for it to be a very busy fire season,” said Daniel Berlant, Information Officer for Cal FIRE. “We have been staffing and obtaining equipment throughout the winter in preparation of the fire season.”
Cal OES Inland Region Administrator Eric Lamoureux spoke on how local, state, and federal agencies are capable of working together to resolve issues. It is Cal OES ‘ responsibility to help pull together the appropriate state agencies to be as creative, collaborative and move quickly in responding to these challenges.
Lamoureux described how more than 600 wells have gone dry near the town of Porterville in Tulare County and how Cal OES is helping these communities by supplying bottled water, bringing in tanks of water, and setting up portable showers.
“The state government is working with Tulare County in trying to find other solutions until rain does come,” said Lamoureux. “The impacts in 2015 are more profound than those in 2014 and it is the job of Cal OES to get the necessary resources to communities.”
The audience attending the briefing, as well as more than 700 watching online, was reminded that as we continue to deal with the issues at hand, we need to look at the long term sustainable solutions.
“Collaboration is key and Cal OES stands ready to assist the real people that deal with the real day to day impacts of the drought,” emphasized Lamoureux.