The dire situation when it comes to the drought in California finally forced Governor Gavin Newsom's hand.
After holding off for weeks to declare a more expanded Declaration of Emergency due to the drought, Newsom announced on Monday in Merced County he was expanding his declaration of emergency order over the drought to 41 of the state's 58 counties. Included in the expanded declaration was the Central Valley, including Tulare County.
Initially Newsom just declared a State of Emergency over the drought in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. But for weeks Democratic and Republican legislators and officials on the state and local level were calling for Newsom to expand that order and he finally relented on Monday.
One of those officials, State Senator Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, whose district represents Porterville, reacted to Newsom's declaration and his announcement for a $100 billion economic stimulus package, including allocating $200 million to Hurtado's SB 559, the State Water Resiliency Act, which funds about a quarter of the bill.
“Drought conditions in the Central Valley and across California continue to worsen, with a majority of the state in a ‘severe,’ ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought status,” Hurtado said. “The State Water Resiliency Act of 2021 will provide much needed funding for canal conveyance repairs throughout the Central Valley that will impact more than 31 million Californians.
“While Governor Newsom’s allocation of $200 million towards the funding of SB 559 is much needed, it does not fully address the total costs to repair the state water conveyance systems. I commend the governor for declaring a local emergency in Kings, Tulare, Kern and Fresno Counties. That declaration provides funding to mitigate some of the drought related impacts we know are on the horizon.”
But Hurtado added more still needs to be done to avoid the food crisis that resulted from the drought in the mid-1970s.
SB 559 would allocate $785 million to repairing the Friant-Kern Canal, the Delta-Mendota Canal and major portions of the California Aqueduct. The repairs are need to restore those sources' ability to deliver water. The Friant-Kern's ability to deliver water has declined by as much as 60 percent.
All of those sources, including the Friant-Kern, are losing water as a result of subsidence, which has been caused by the over-pumping of groundwater.
The process to repair a 33-mile stretch of the Friant-Kern from between Lindsay and Strathmore to North Kern County is well underway. The Friant Water Authority last month approved a funding program that includes state, federal and local funds that cleared the way for the repairs. A contractor for the project should be selected this summer.
The Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency has entered into an agreement with the FWA to provide compensation for the project for the subsidence that has been caused by over-pumping of groundwater.
Hurtado also stated the Central Valley has had to no longer use 100,000 acres of land to grow rice to provide water for Southern California. She said each one of those acres would have yielded 8,000 pounds of rice.
Hurtado is also a co-author of the Water Innovation Act of 2021, which will create the Office of Water Innovation at the California Water Commission, furthering new technologies and other approaches. Hurtado has also introduced Senate Bill 464, which will expand the eligibility for state funded food benefits to undocumented immigrants, ensuring all residents can access food assistance.
“We’re living with a water system designed for a world that no longer exists,” Newsom said. Newsom added the lack of runoff from a lack of snowpack has led to 500,000 acre feet of water being lost which he said would be enough to supply enough water to 1 million households for one year.
Newsom's drought emergency now includes the Klamath River, the Delta River and the Tulare Lake Watershed. While the 41 counties now included in the declaration still only accounts for 30 percent of the state's population, the impact is obviously huge economically as the order has been declared for a vast swath of the state's agricultural region that supply's much of the world's food supply.
Monday’s drought emergency proclamation added the following 39 counties along with Mendocino and Sonoma Counties: Del Norte, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity, Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties.
“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” Newsom said. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”
The $200 million funding for SB 559 was included in a “drought and water resilience package” as part of Newsom's $100 billion package, which would also include $600 payments to up to two-thirds of Californians.
It's believed the pending recall Newsom is facing has complicated his decision to expand his drought emergency order, but again the dire conditions essentially forced his hand.
The expanded emergency declaration though could lead to farmers and others from being about to pull water from rivers that feed the Delta, which provides much of California's water. That will allow more water to flow into the oceans and to prevent salt from getting into the water. That effort could also be aided by the speeding up of the installation of temporary rock barriers in the Delta as a result of Newsom's order.
Locally Newsom's order will help the state to truck emergency supplies to communities that ran out of drinking water as a result of the last drought a few years ago and may become vulnerable again. That's important for areas like East Porterville, which was hit hard by the drought several years ago.
Local water officials will also be given more flexibility on how to allocate water.
As far as the dire circumstances that led to Newsom's declaration, locall the Southern Sierra Nevada region snowpack was just at 16 percent of normal as of April 22. The recent storm helped a little, but not much. The U.S. Drought Monitor considers 94.5 percent of Tulare County in extreme drought.
The State Department of Water Resources has already scaled back its allocation to 5 percent or 210,266 acre-feet to be distributed among 29 contractors who serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. The department should announce its final allocation sometime this month.
The federal Central Valley Project didn't scale back its initial allocation locally to the Friant Division, which is 20 percent of a Class I allocation or 160,000 acre feet.