California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in the most populous U.S. state after three years of little rain, including the driest on record, left some reservoirs and rivers at critical levels.
The declaration may make it easier to divert water from fisheries and ecologically sensitive areas to farms and ranches, and lead to calls on residents to curtail use. If the drought persists, mandatory rationing may be ordered in some areas.
“This is voluntary conservation at this point,” Brown told reporters today in San Francisco. “But as we go down the road, January, February, March, we will keep our eye on the ball and intensify even to the point of mandatory conservation.”
The drought threatens California’s $44.7 billion agricultural industry that produces almost half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S. Residents and businesses may face billions of dollars in higher water rates and energy costs, stunting the 10th largest economy in the world that has struggled to rebound from the longest recession since the 1930s.
California’s water managers say that unless the state gets strong winter storms in the next few months, they will be able to deliver only 5 percent of the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet of water requested by agencies that supply more than 25 million Californians and almost a million acres of irrigated farmland. An acre-foot is the volume needed to cover an acre of land one-foot deep with water.
The last time water allocations were that low was 2010, though the state was able to boost supplies to almost 50 percent after plentiful rain fell in the late Spring.
Last year, the state was able to deliver just 35 percent of water requested, down from 65 percent in 2012 and 80 percent in 2011. The last time the state was able to deliver all the water requested was in 2006.
(Michael B. Marois, with assistance from Alison Vekshin in San Francisco. Editors: Pete Young, Justin Blum)
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