Media call: Agency officials discuss their role in addressing the drought

No snow mountainsThis afternoon, agency officials held a media call to discuss their roles in addressing the drought as laid out in the Governor’s executive order issued this morning. John Laird, Secretary of Natural Resources, welcomed everyone to the call and introduced the speakers but provided no other substantive comment.

The officials on the call were Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services; Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources; Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board; Robert Weisenmiller, Chair of the California Energy Commission; Karen Ross, Secretary of the Department of Food and Ag, and Chuck Bonham, Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Here’s what they had to say …

MARK GHILARDUCCI, Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services

Cal OES logoAs you probably know by now, the Governor participated in the snowpack survey and really confirmed what I think we all knew – that the snowpack is the lowest on record, and unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any meaningful precipitation coming in our near future. This really spells out the fact that the situation is unprecedented and critical, and requires the actions of all hands on deck approach.

Over the last year, this drought has taken its toll on our cities, our farms, and our natural environment. The cascading impacts are having an effect on public health and safety, on our agriculture, and on our natural environment. Since the very beginning of the drought, our experts have been working around the clock managing our precious water resources and working to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one.

During that time, the state is taken steps to make sure that water is available for human health and safety, growing of foods, firefighting, and protecting fish and wildlife. We’ve also spent millions of dollars helping thousands of California families most impacted by the drought to pay their bills, put food on their tables, and have water to drink.

Last year, as you may remember, the Governor asked all Californians to reduce their water use by 20%. Unfortunately, many haven’t stepped up to meet that goal. This year has to be different. We are in a critical stage and conservation will be paramount. Now with no snow in the mountains and our reservoirs getting lower by the day, it’s time to do more.

So with that setting the stage, I’m going to turn it over to Director Mark Cowin …

MARK COWIN, Director of the Department of Water Resources

NEW_DWR_LOGO_14inchSo as Mark points out, the Governor did participate in our snow survey this morning. I would think this is the first time that an active governor has participated in a snow survey, but I think there will be an asterisk in the record book because we didn’t find any snow.

So this is obviously a very significant glimpse at our water picture this year. In normal years, we expect the Sierra snowpack will account for about 15 million acre-feet of storage. The fact that water content and snow for the northern Sierra looks like it will stand at about 6% of normal indicates that that big reservoir is near empty. So we will be consigned to the water we have in storage in reservoirs around the state now, as well as continued reliance upon groundwater to meet our needs this year for our cities and farms and for our environment, so the delicate balancing act that we have endeavored to pursue over the last few years continues and only gets harder over time.

The Governor showed up for the snow survey ...
The Governor showed up for the snow survey …

With this executive order, we take very bold new steps, I believe, to change the way that we’re using water in California. I will quickly describe some of the actions that the executive order includes where my Department is the action agency, and then others will get to some of those even more significant actions that are included in the executive order.

First off for the Department of Water Resources, we shall lead a statewide initiative in partnership with local agencies to collectively replace 50 million square-feet of lawns. This is essentially ornamental turf that uses a whole lot of water, and replace those with lawns with drought tolerant landscaping. I want to be clear that we’re going to do this in partnership with local agencies so the additive amount will total a goal of 50 million square feet. The Department will be putting together its program over the next couple of months. We aim to try to provide these types of programs to underserved communities to complement some of the bigger programs that are already taking shape in local agencies around the state.

The second action that the Department will undertake is to update the state model water efficient landscape ordinance. Under legislation authored by then Assemblymember Laird in 2006, the Department created a state model water efficient landscape ordinance that provided for requirements for new installations for landscaping in developments around the state. The idea was to provide for efficient irrigation of new landscaping and do all the types of things, including limiting acres or percentages of any landscape to high water use plants, and that ordinance has served us well. Local governments, cities, and counties have been required to either adopt that ordinance as part of their planning process, or adopt an equivalent ordinance that would provide the same amount of water efficiency. In the fourth year of this historic drought, we think it’s time to improve the efficiency of all of our landscapes, so the Department will undertake and update of this ordinance again to increase the efficiency of irrigation systems, to improve gray water usage, improve onsite stormwater capture, and limit the portions of landscape that can be covered in turf. We will also be asking cities and counties to report on their implementation of this ordinance by the end of 2015.

The next action that the Department is responsible for is in advancing the role of our agricultural water management process across the state, so several issues here. First of all, 2009 legislation required local ag water suppliers that serve water to more than 25,000 irrigated acres to prepare agricultural water management plans that have specified requirements. Under this action in this executive order, we will add to those requirements a detailed drought management plan that will describe how individual ag water suppliers intend to strike the balance between supplies and demands in this significant drought. We’re also going to extend the requirements to produce these plans to ag water suppliers that serve water to between 10,000 and 25,000 acres; so in other words, all of these requirements will now be applied to any ag water supplier that serves more than 10,000 acres.

In addition, the Department will target our grant funding to help develop and implement those drought management plans, particularly for those smaller ag water suppliers. We’ll be asking for information on compliance and providing that information to the State Water Board.

Finally, we are in this fourth year of drought, preparing for the need the emergency drought salinity barriers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The barriers would provide an opportunity to prevent salt water from intruding into the fresh water channels of the Delta and limit the amount of releases from our upstream reservoirs necessary in order to manage salinity in the Delta. That will allow us to keep more water upstream for cold water purposes for the benefit of many species of fish. This executive order will provide some regulatory streamlining to allow us to implement the barriers in a timely way if they are deemed necessary. That decision will be made over the course of April with barriers starting to be constructed in early May if indeed we need to go forward with that program.

The Department is also required to continue to expedite our consideration of water transfers, voluntary water transfers around the state and we have some regulatory streamlining included in the executive order to help us with that process.

So with that, I will turn it over to Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board …

FELICIA MARCUS, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board

SWRCB logo water boardsIt’s obvious we’re clearly now in a drought like we’ve not seen before, nor have our parents our grandparents, so we do have to take actions that we haven’t taken before. And it is always better to be safer than sorrier, and unfortunately, the voluntary efforts and the baseline regulations that have been in effect since last summer haven’t really provided with the water savings that the situation now clearly warrants.

Many businesses and public agencies have asked us to set more aggressive statewide expectations and targets for conservation, so the first provision specific to the water board has to do with setting targets for statewide water restrictions. The goal in it is to get a 25% savings in urban water use, but the Governor also recognizes that different agencies have taken different levels of effort over the past decades, let alone during this drought, and so we’ll be setting targets that take into consideration the current per capita use of water – meaning that we have to come up with a sliding scale where those who have been conserving longer and use less will have lower targets than those who have just started conserving or use more. That’s the fairest and most effective way to go. A little bit complicated, but being fair is really important in this work.

It also means that a number of agencies are going to have to step up mightily compared to where they’ve been. Others who have been acting will still need to step up more, because it’s important, given the severity of the crisis we’re facing and the need to stretch our urban water resources for as long as possible, particularly if it doesn’t rain next year in addition to this year, and we find ourselves in a more Australian style millennium drought.

There are a few provisions that are fairly specific. We will be looking at other specifics but a few are called out in the executive order. One is on commercial, industrial, and institutional properties with large landscapes – just a clear statement that they will at least need to meet the targets that we set for others. It is inevitable that local agencies will also no doubt focus on indoor use of water in the commercial, industrial, and institutional sector, but it varies very greatly, and so that will be an area that locals will use to meet their targets, but in particular, it targets large ornamental landscapes that don’t serve a purpose other than ornamental or they don’t need to be lush and green in a time of severe drought.

DWR's Frank Gehrke didn't need his pole, but he brought it anyway ...
DWR’s Frank Gehrke didn’t need his pole, but he brought it anyway …

There’s also a provision to work on prohibiting the irrigation of medians with potable water; similarly in a time of severe drought, that seems to be a luxury that many residents and others have been complaining about. We will figure out how to target that one, and similar to all the landscape uses in a way that encourages people to save trees, but not unduly water lawns, because trees are important from a climate change perspective, but important in terms of public safety.

Similarly there is a provision to prohibit new home building with potable water not delivered by drip or micro spray. This is an opportunity in new buildings not to be profligate with our water use on ornamental landscapes. Unfortunately for the state of California, we have had quite a few new home starts and we predict even more for the next year, which is great for the economy but we might as well do it right as we go forward.

Another provision relates to water pricing. Water pricing is very much a locally set issue but it falls into the category of the most important tools for achieving water conservation, so we are directed to work with water suppliers to come up with a way to direct some kind of conservation rate structures. They can range from fees on the highest water users to allocation based rates, which some agencies have done, to budget based rates which others have done, and the goal is to be able to use that tool to garner greater conservation also to reward those who have conserved. It also is something that we know has some challenges based on Prop 218 so we will be working with local agencies to figure out the best way to be helpful to them in this effort. But it’s a very important effort, not just for conservation, but also for assuring the financial stability of our water agencies during a time when conservation is called for.

Two more provisions. One is making permanent our existing rules on requiring urban water suppliers to report their water usage, their conservation rates, and their enforcement information. Clearly as we move into an area where droughts are expected to be more frequent, particularly in the situation such as we find this year where our snowpack is dismal because of hot temperatures, we’re going to need all the information we can get to move forward. It’s item #1 in the water action plan to make conservation a California way of life, and there’s no time like the present to get going on our long-term as well as our short-term needs, and that reporting will certainly help us stay on track.

And then finally, Mark has mentioned a couple of the other ones that they are point on that we’re back up for, is an order, provision #10, requires or gives us the ability to require more reporting and allow us the ability to do inspections, similar to what other agencies can do to better help us enforce the water rights system in California.

So those are the major ones are our plate … We’ll turn it to our next speaker, which is Bob …

BOB WEISENMILLER, California Energy Commission

CA energy commission logoI’m going to cover the four things the energy commission is doing to help in this crisis.

First, the Energy Commission, along with DWR and the Water Board, will put in place a time-limited statewide appliance rebate program, and we’re going to provide financial incentives for the replacement of inefficient household devices.

Second, the Energy Commission shall adopt on emergency basis regulations establishing standards that improve the efficiency of water appliances, including toilets, urinals, and faucets, available for sale and installation in any new and existing buildings in California.

The next thing we’re going to do, the third item, is that we, along with the Department and the Water Board, will implement a water energy technology program, and we want to encourage the deployment of innovative water management technologies for businesses, residences, industries and agriculture. And we want to achieve water and energy savings and greenhouse gas reductions by accelerating the use of cutting edge technologies.

And finally, the Energy Commission is responsible for siting large power plants. In our decisions we specify exactly where the water comes from for those plants. We’re putting in place an expedited process so if any of these power plants need to shift to other water sources, we can do that and also put in place mitigation measures.

So with that, let me now turn it over to Karen Ross …

KAREN ROSS, Secretary of Food and Agriculture

cdfa_logo_v_300Everyone knows that drought is especially a hard hit for agriculture and our natural environment. Just a reminder of what the analysis of last year’s drought impacts were when there were, for the first time, a zero allocation from the federal water project and significant allocation reductions by the State Water Project. We fallowed over 400,000 acres, primarily in the Central Valley. We also had the loss of about 17,000 jobs for our farmworkers within the Central Valley.

We know already that based on zero allocation of water from the federal project this year and only a 20% allocation from the State Water Project this year. In addition to cuts that have already been announced by local districts to better manage every drop of water that they do have, we will see even more significant hits this year.

Last year was a total of $1.5 billion in direct losses to the agricultural community. We anticipate hundreds of thousands of more fallowed acres this year, including additional pullouts beyond the 40,000 acres of trees and vines that were taken out last year. This will result in more jobs being lost, and that’s farm and wage income that is not going to be spent in these local rural communities that are especially dependent on the agricultural community.

We also know that over time there have been great strides made in water use efficiency within the agricultural community, over the last two decades, agriculture is using 5% less water with 90% gains in economic activity and yield gains. It was for that reason that the state legislature and the legislation that the Governor signed on an emergency basis a year ago and again last week is making further investments in ag energy and water efficiency programs. Our first round of funding that was just completed is estimated to save over 317,000 acre-feet of water over the lifetime of those projects and we know that continuing to make these kinds of investments in technology and innovation, we will continue to be able to provide the kinds of food crops that are only grown in California and enjoyed by consumers here and across the country.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to my colleague Chuck Bonham …

CHUCK BONHAM, Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife

dfw logoSecretary [Ross] and I have had a conversation over these difficult four years about how drought is not an issue over who is impacted the most, but rather, drought is impacting all of us. It’s not about people or the environment, fish or the farms, the task in front of us, how we make it through this together.

So as additional context for some of the impacts of drought, the facts are as strong and as stark for fish and wildlife as they are for people. Our Department has been running surveys in the Delta to monitor Delta smelt and longfin smelt, each of whom live almost the entirety of their life in the Bay Delta estuary. We’ve been doing those surveys for almost half a century; this fall and winter, we recorded the lowest ever number for Delta smelt and the second lowest ever for longfin smelt. And then just this spring and March, we completed our spring surveys for Delta smelt, we found the lowest number ever in our recorded history there, a number of 6. By way of comparison, last year we found 88. Now it’s important to note these surveys aren’t looking for every single fish; they are monitoring at defined locations year after year after year, we found the lowest numbers ever.

On the salmon front, we know that in the Upper Sacramento in our winter run Chinook salmon fishery, we had a 95% mortality rate for the young egg and fry in the 2014 year class. In plain English, our Department thinks that means we’ve seen potentially a collapse of our natural winter-run spawning stock. It’s no better for birds, and it’s even worse for the non migratory species like your garter snakes or your Amarosa volts.

In an extremely oddity example of the relationship of drought to people and wildlife, typically our Department may get a couple of phone calls about wildlife in urban areas in Bakersfield in any given year. This year, at the end of the fall and the beginning of the winter, we got about 100 calls, and in a week period, we moved 10 bears out of downtown Bakersfield.

So, if you care about fish and wildlife, every drop of water that we can save may be the drop of water that makes a difference and gives a fighting chance to those species who are struggling to survive during this fourth year of drought. So we’re thankful to the DWR, SWB, the lead agencies expressed in this executive order, and all citizens of the state who can help us conserve more water.

And let me turn it back to our Director of the Office of Emergency Services, Mark Ghilarducci …

MARK GHILARDUCCI, Office of Emergency Services

Cal OES logoSo OES continues to coordinate the overall state’s response, working with state and federal agencies and our local governments, and with the Governor’s drought task force to implement these drought response strategies. As you remember, last year the Governor did issue an executive order which authorized OES to provide for a program called the California Disaster Assistance Act (CDAA), and this is special disaster funding that is made available to local governments for assistance in providing emergency drinking water supplies to households without water, and also for sanitation purposes. Eligibility for this program are for those jurisdictions which include counties, cities, special districts, and private non-profits which have the authority to provide emergency water supplies in response to the threat of public health and safety.

Types of eligibility programs include emergency water supplies for sanitation, such as providing portable toilets, portable showers, or laundry services in centralized locations; the installation of temporary water tanks to provide potable water to households for drinking and/or sanitation; the installation of community tanks in central parts of communities for community use; and delivery of potable or bottled water under both the CDAA’s program and through the SWRCB’s drinking water program.

This program is being taken advantage of now in a number of places throughout the state, for example in Tulare and Tuolumne Counties, OES through CDAA is funding the purchase of the installation of tanks and providing bottled water delivery. In Tulare, for example, this is happening mainly in East Porterville, and two community non-potable large capacity water tanks have been installed and water delivery is taking place. In addition, Mariposa, Fresno, Kern, and Madera counties are beginning the process for rolling out similar programs.

Now in the current executive order, OES with housing and community and development will work jointly with counties to identify and where necessary provide temporary assistance for individuals or persons that may have to move from their homes or housing units due to a lack of water. Predominantly who are served by private wells that have gone dry, so this is a situation where a home could be theoretically red tagged because of the impact to its health and safety and it’s not a secure environment, or to utilities with less than 15 connections where all available water has been exhausted.

All of this will continue to be coordinated both from the work that had been done last year where a number of the agencies working together did emergency water ties, and connections to ensure that what water was available was moved to where it was needed the most, but this year with the lack of precipitation, and very little or no snowpack to speak of, the conditions and the complexities are much worse.

save our waterSo the effort will continue to be facilitated and coordinated through the drought task force and through the OES state operations center and regional centers in conjunction with all of the state agencies to be able to deal with the cascading impacts and work very diligently to stay out in front of this evolving crisis.

So with that …

snow survey

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