February 28, 2009

California Under Drought Emergency

With almost $3 billion in economic losses from below-normal rainfall this year, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state emergency on Friday due to drought, and is even considering mandatory water rationing, Reuters reported.

State officials called the current drought the most expensive ever, saying as many as 95,000 agricultural jobs will be lost, communities will be devastated and some growers in the most economically productive farm state are simply not able to plant crops.

Schwarzenegger urged cities to cut back water use or face the first mandatory state restrictions, possibly within the end of the month. The California governor is also in favor of building controversial dams and more widely backed water-recycling programs.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement: "California faces its third consecutive year of drought and we must prepare for the worst -- a fourth, fifth or even sixth year of drought".

The state wants urban water users to cut consumption by 20 percent and state agencies to implement a water reduction plan. Meanwhile, the state of emergency will let planners move ahead with some infrastructure building.

A $10 billion bond package has been revived to build new dams, fund conservation programs and build plants to recycle wastewater and recharge aquifers.

Republican state Senator Dave Cogdill said he hopes the attitude toward surface storage has changed.

The governor said if the situation has not sufficiently improved by the end of March, the state water department will report on conservation progress and water rationing and mandatory cuts in water use could be instituted.

As a top producer of more than half the nation's fruits, vegetables and nuts, farmers are outraged by reports that the main federal source of irrigation water will go dry this year and the top state water project will not fulfill more than 15 percent of requested water.

The Central Valley, a fertile but arid region stretching some 500 miles from Bakersfield to Redding, is the agricultural heartland of California, which produces more than $36 billion a year.

The consensus among most water planners and environmentalists is that climate change is creating a more erratic climate that could lengthen dry spells.

"We're going to have droughts. That's a fact of life. They may be worse in the future," said state water chief Lester Snow.


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