Statewide drought declared |

Statewide drought declared

Gov. Schwarzenegger proclaimed a statewide drought Wednesday, reacting to the driest spring on record in Northern California, along with the second straight year of low snowpack and rainfall.

The governor used the time to roll out a plan that includes $3.5 billion for the development of water storage, including more dams, said Lisa Page, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

“Dams is one of the potential solutions,” Page said.

Moving with urgency, the governor hopes to have his plan approved by the Legislature this summer in time to have a financing initiative on November’s ballot, Page said.

The drought is hurting the state’s overall economic prosperity, exacerbating fire danger and jeopardizing agriculture production in the San Joaquin Valley, the governor’s order said.

“There’s no question about it. If next year we have a third consecutive dry year, we’re going to have serious problems,” said Ted Thomas, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.

State water officials are studying a reservoir site north of Sacramento in Colusa and Glenn counties that could be filled with excess flows from the Sacramento River, Thomas said.

A dam could be built upstream of the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River, east of Fresno, Thomas said. Already heavily diverted, the river sometimes runs dry in certain sections, and the federal government will soon embark on a major river restoration effort there to help salmon.

“Another dam above Friant could actually help” fish by providing cool water in the hot months, Thomas said.

Rivers and reservoirs that supply much of the state’s population with water are far below normal levels, according to the governor’s order.

How the drought will impact delta smelt and salmon already dwindling in numbers remains to be seen.

A December court decision, seen as a victory in the preservation of the delta smelt, cut water supplies to 25 million people in the central and southern parts of the state by 30 percent this year, said Thomas.

The governor has no authority to reverse the decision, Thomas said.

“The fish will be protected. The fish are trumping some other water needs at the moment,” he said.

Though conditions are drier than normal, water users in Nevada County won’t likely feel a pinch because Nevada Irrigation District will make all of their deliveries this year, said Don Wight, the district’s water operations manager.

“We’re in good standing,” Wight said.

A May 1 NID snow survey showed snow pack was at 72 percent of normal and the water agency’s reservoirs are at 67 percent of normal, and runoff forecasts for May through July are expected to be the same, Wight said.

“We’re going to run a conservative operation. We’ll only put as much water in canals as absolutely necessary,” Wight said.

Last week’s rainfall did little to add water to reserves, but the cool weather of recent weeks helps ease the demand on the system, Wight said.

Later this month NID will look at run off, storage and demand and decide whether or not to purchase water from PG&E to sustain reserves for next year. Depending how the season goes, the agency could curtail fall water sales for irrigation.

Conditions are looking dire throughout the rest of the state, according to the governor.

Many Southern California communities that received only 20 percent of normal rainfall in 2007 are dependent on source waters in Northern California that received less than 20 percent of normal rainfall March through May. Statewide runoff forecasts for 2008 is estimated to be 41 percent below average, according to the governor’s order.

Lake Oroville, which supplies the State Water Project is at 50 percent of capacity, Lake Shasta is at 61 percent and Folsom Lake is at 63 percent of capacity. The Colorado River Basin is at 50 percent of its total storage capacity after an eight year drought, the order said.

“There will be emergency water transfers across the state,” Page said.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail or call 477-4231.

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