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Local officials consider next steps in preparation for drought

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From left, the California snowpack shown on Sunday, January 13, 2013, and the snowpack shown on Monday, January 13, 2014 (right). The snowpack in California was reported to be 17 percent of normal on Friday, January 17, 2014. Images courtesy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – With California's governor having declared a state of emergency due to the state's drought conditions, officials in Lake County are continuing their efforts to plan for how to respond to anticipated water shortages and lack of rain.

With the US Drought Monitoring reporting that 63 percent of California is now in the midst of “extreme drought” conditions, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday proclaimed a state of emergency.

Brown directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for drought conditions, including assisting farmers and communities, and making preparations to ensure the state can deal with any drinking water shortages that may result.

The governor's declaration came earlier than anticipated. State officials had indicated at a State Board of Food and Agriculture meeting last week that Brown might wait until after the second manual snow survey early in February.

But with no rain and a dwindling snowpack – it's at 17 percent of normal for this time of year – Brown went forward with making the declaration on Friday.

In Lake County, Special Districts already has sent out letters to customers in the 10 water districts it serves – Mt. Hannah, Paradise Valley, Kono Tayee, Starview, Bonanza Springs, Finley/Lands End, Spring Valley, Soda Bay, Kelseyville and north Lakeport – asking for voluntary conservation.

Seeking voluntary water cutbacks by customers is the first in the agency's four-step drought plan that, as conditions warrant, implements more stringent conservation measures, as Lake County News has reported.

Special Districts Administrator Mark Dellinger presented the plan as part of an update on the water situation to the Board of Supervisors Jan. 7.

“I am working on customized contingency plans as needed for each of the 10 water systems we manage,” Dellinger told Lake County News on Friday. “This is to supplement the advance stages of our Drought Management Plan.”

The California Department of Public Health has asked all water purveyors they regulate – which include all 10 of Special Districts' systems – for updates on drought conditions as they change, information that Dellinger said is being forwarded to Gov. Brown's office.

Special Districts Compliance Coordinator Jan Coppinger, who is taking the lead on the agency's drought plan, has implemented a Facebook page to help update the community on the water situation. That page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/LakeCountySpecialDistricts .

County Administrative Officer Matt Perry said he doesn't anticipate the county doing any kind of an emergency drought declaration – such as that passed Jan. 7 by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors – any time soon.

He said he expects to see proposals on what actions to take next in a report from county Water Resources Director Scott De Leon, who the board directed on Jan. 7 to create a larger drought management plan.

“What the board's asked me to do is kind of new ground,” De Leon said on Friday.

De Leon is reaching out to the agriculture community, Mendocino National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to ask what measures they're taking.

“We'll be reviewing what the governor came up with and if there's a way to incorporate that into our report, we would certainly do that,” he said.

De Leon said his report's completion is still some weeks out.

In the city of Lakeport which, unlike Clearlake, manages its own water and sewer systems, officials have had no formal notice from the state regarding what mandates they may be subject to at this time, according to City Manager Margaret Silveira.

“As far as the Lakeport water supply, we are not at an immediate threat, but do advise voluntary water conservation measure, which we have had posted on our Web site,” Silveira said. The city's Web site is www.cityoflakeport.com .

Silveira said that if the drought continues and aquifers are not replenished, then the city would have to follow the adopted protocols for conservation.

“If the governor establishes conservation mandates, we will have to wait and see what those mandates are and how it will impact Lakeport,” she said.

Clearlake City Hall is closed on Fridays, so officials there couldn't be reached regarding potential conservation actions on the part of the city.

In other reaction to the governor's Friday declaration, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said he hopes the governor’s action will bring increased attention to the longer-term water supply crisis California faces, which is compounded by population growth, environmental regulations and, now, by drought.

“We don’t know if this is year three of a three-year drought or year three of a longer drought,” he said. “We do know that long droughts can be a feature of the California climate – and we know one way to insulate ourselves from droughts is to store more water when we can.”

Wenger said California must commit to improve its water system. New storage, both aboveground and underground, “provides more flexibility to respond to more volatile weather patterns.”

In responding to the governor's Friday declaration, legislators at the state and federal level also used the opportunity to call for increased efforts at addressing the state water system's insufficient capacity.

“Today’s declaration by the governor represents what many in the environmental and agricultural communities in my district have long feared: California’s water system is insufficient and conservation alone is not enough,” said Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa).

Citing data that points to California facing the lowest rainfall levels in its 153-year history as a state, the California Congressional Delegation – including John Garamendi (CA-3), George Miller (CA-11), Mike Thompson (CA-5), Doris Matsui (CA-6), Jerry McNerney (CA-9), Jackie Speier (CA-14) and Ami Bera (CA-7) – thanked Brown for declaring the drought emergency.

“We can’t think of a clearer reason why the state and nation must invest in water recycling, conservation, and storage,” the group said in a Friday statement. “These investments can create millions of gallons of new water for the state while creating good jobs. We urge the governor to focus on creating new water through recycling, conservation, and storage in order to protect the state, family farms and businesses, and local municipalities that depend on a reliable water supply for their communities.”

Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.

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Greg_Cornish
And what you didn't hear...
written by Greg_Cornish, January 18, 2014
Fish and wildlife protections have been suspended as quoted here.

Here's the text in question, section 9 of Friday's drought declaration:.

9.The Department of Water Resources and the Water Board will take actions necessary to make water immediately available, and, for purposes of carrying out directives 5 and 8, Water Code section 13247 and Division 13 (commencing with section 21000) of the Public Resources Code and regulations adopted pursuant to that Division are suspended on the basis that strict compliance with them will prevent, hinder, or delay the mitigation of the effects of the emergency.
Division 13 of the state's Public Resources Code is the technical, "codified" name for CEQA.

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