As the heat of summer turns lawns golden brown this year, the Golden State has taken on a new meaning and focus in the fourth year of choking drought across California. Fire activity continues to spike due to ample fuels in nearly all counties. Local municipalities from urban to rural communities are counting every gallon of water they can conserve for health and safety uses. The City of Redding and County of Shasta is one of the strongholds of water issues and conservation in the north state.
Today the Governor’s Interagency Drought Task Force (DTF) leaders met with city, county and regional officials in the Redding, to discuss past, current and future drought-related concerns. Representatives from the DTF included California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham, State Water Resources Control Board Member Dee Dee D’Adamo, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Chief Deputy Director Nancy Ward and Department of Water Resources Deputy Director Bill Croyle.
The meeting was held on the banks of the Sacramento River at the Exploration Park of Turtle Bay in Redding near the iconic Sundial Bridge. Recently the Department of Fish and Wildlife closed a 5.5-mile stretch of the Sacramento River due to the drought and its impacts on fish ecology and the Exploration Park sits within that closed area for fishing.
“Four years ago, I don’t think that any of us would predict that four years later we would be facing such a historic situation,” said Chuck Bonham, director of California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The space that I’ve found to be most productive is when we realize that we are all in this together.”
Cal OES, as the emergency services coordination agency for the state, has been closely tied to emergency managers at the county and local levels in Northern California. Last year was clear evidence of harsh wildfire conditions in this section of the state as Siskiyou County had a record-breaking year for acres burned and number of major wildfires over several rural communities near the Oregon border.
“This is one of our most important opportunities to hear from the very source of the issues how we can build on our relationships and help with local needs,” said Nancy Ward, chief deputy director of Cal OES. “We have to partner together when we make critical decisions about your communities and water systems.”
Twenty-five counties have declared local emergency proclamations due to drought conditions. In Northern California alone the counties of El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Mariposa, Modoc, Plumas, San Joaquin, Shasta, Siskiyou, Sutter, Trinity, Tuolumne and Yuba. A total of 33 counties have also established their own drought task forces to coordinate local responses.
The big watershed in the area, Shasta Reservoir, recorded 2.2 million acre-feet on July 1 with a 10-day average reduction in storage of 7,000 acre-feet per day. Water releases have been held lower than normal to preserve cold water in the reservoir for winter run Chinook salmon later this fall. Shasta Reservoir is expected to break the record low storage of 700,000 acre-feet of the 1976-77 drought years.
“We are starting our advance planning for a dry 2015 and 2016,” said Bill Croyle, deputy director of Statewide Emergency Preparedness and Security for the California Department of Water Resources. “Part of that is reaching down to the local level to make sure the state is supporting your efforts to address local drought issues.”
On July 7, the State Water Resources Control Board approved the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation temperature management plan for the Sacramento River, which restricts summer water releases from Shasta Dam to preserve cold water for winter run Chinook salmon. This effort also increases flows from Folsom Lake and Lake Oroville to decrease salinity levels in the Northern California Delta.
Starting July 15, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, a member of the Drought Task Force through the California Natural Resources Agency, closed all outdoor rinse stations within state parks and beaches due to statewide drought conditions. The department estimated this step will conserve more than 1.2 gallons of water per show or rinse, adding up to approximately 18 million gallons of water annually.
Another Drought Task Force member agency, the Department of Social Services has also provided food assistance to affected communities that suffer high levels of unemployment from the drought. The department reported that more than 734,612 boxes of food have been provided to community food banks with an average of about 13,250 food boxes per week since June 2014. Over 70% of the food distributions have occurred in the Tulare Basin.