Republican Congressmen Kevin McCarthy, who represents Porterville, and David Valadao are calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency over the drought.
Other California Congress members who joined in urging Newsom to declare a state of emergency were Ken Calvert, Mike Garcia, Darrell Issa, Young Kim, Devi Nunes, Jay Obernolte and Michelle Steel. The congressmen have sent Newsom a letter urging him to declare a state of emergency.
The letter was sent after Newsom stated a reluctance to declare a state of emergency after California lawmakers called on him to do so last week.
“We’re preparing to do many things as it relates to preparing ourselves for the reality formally of second drought conditions,” the governor responded to the California lawmakers request. “As it relates to the specific declaration of emergency which has all kinds of component parts, we are not prepared to do that at this moment.”
A state of emergency would give state officials more flexibility in managing water supply, something that would be tricky for Newsom to declare when it comes to balancing the interests of environmentalists and those in agriculture.
And only Newsom can declare a state of emergency. In 2014, then-Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over the drought.
In their letter the Congress members state "We write to urgently request for you to make a statewide declaration of emergency for the state of California. It is not a secret that we find ourselves yet again with a major drought. It is imperative we do all we can as elected leaders to ensure our constituents, and the communities they live in, have access to the resources they need during this time, namely water."
The California Department of Water Resources announced an initial water supply of 10 percent of what was requested by users from the State Water Project. But then the department late March took the dire to reduce that allocation to just five percent.
In recent years the department had held with a initial allocation of 10 percent and then a final allocation of 20 percent in May.
The five percent allocation means a reduction in half from 420,000 acre feet to 210,266 acre feet of water distributed among 29 contractors who serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.
On the federal level, the Central Valley Project also announced the five percent water allocation for customers south of the Delta River wasn't available. Locally the CVP has still held to its 20 percent allocation for Class I in the Friant Division which equates to 160,000 acre feet.
“The disappointing reallocation announcements are incredibly alarming as this news not only negatively impacts water used for agricultural purposes but also communities that do not have access to clean drinking water,” the letter states. “Securing a reliable supply of water continues to be one of the Central Valley's greatest challenges.”
The letter calls for an increase in water infrastructure, including making “significant” investments in building new reservoirs and expanding existing ones.
“With no substantial storm in the forecast, we do not know when the situation will get better,” the letter states. “Something needs to be done. A state of emergency declaration would provide flexibility and maximize efficiency as we use our water.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack did designate 50 California counties, including all of Central California, as natural disaster areas. That declaration allows for emergency relief loans for those in the ag industry who qualify for up to eight months. “While this action is appreciated and helpful it is not enough,” the letter states.
“We echo those reminders to you that it was the agricultural workforce and industry that stepped up during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic to continue providing food and nutrition to our nation,” the letter states in referring to state lawmakers' call for a state of emergency. “If the industry does not receive assistance during this trying time, they risk going out of business entirely.”
The letter added “we are also committed to robust and continued engagement with state, local and Tribal governments to develop longer term measures to respond to climate change and improve water security. Conserving water at the individual level is a critical effort but will not by itself be enough.”
The letter states some areas in Southern California claim to have sufficient storage to help them through the drought, but will no longer serve as an adequate supply “especially if we see prolonged and severe droughts in the future.”
“Please step up to the challenge and provide this designation so our farmers, agriculture workers, and communities can have some certainty and stability in an otherwise tumultuous and scary time,” the letter states.