The State Water Resources Control Board yesterday (Feb. 8) decided to extend water restrictions, such as sprinkler usage, in California’s water conservation effort.
Restrictions, which among others, prohibit the watering lawns directly after a rain, are for areas that don’t have enough water reserves for three additional dry years.
“These regulations have helped Californians rise to the occasion and show what they can do with conservation, while providing flexibility based on differing local water supply conditions across the state,” said Chair Felicia Marcus. “We are beyond happy that water conditions continue to improve this year, but the rainy season isn’t over yet and some areas of the state continue to suffer significant drought impacts.
“The restrictions prohibit wasting water such as spraying sidewalks with hoses, running sprinklers within 48 hours after measurable rainfall and washing cars using hoses that do not have turn-off nozzles,” said Miryam Barajas, a public information officer for the board.
The State Water Resources Control Board announced (on Jan. 4) numbers on urban monthly water conservation: 18.8 percent was recorded in November, down from 19.6 percent in October. It was below the 20.2 percent conserved in Nov. 2015, when the state-mandated conservation targets.
“Californians are continuing to conserve, which is the way it should be, given that we can’t know what the future will bring but we know that we can’t take water for granted anymore,” said Marcus.
“There are still two more months of the wet season still ahead and rain and snow could stop,” said Maggie Macías, a public affairs official with the state Department of Water Resources.
The Valley drought
As storms continue to pummel the San Joaquín Valley and water approaches capacity in numerous reservoirs, the memories of dried-out wells, public showers and other impacts from California’s drought seem distant.
Only a few months ago, the Valley was thirsty for water.
Politicians, officials and some residents are optimistic over how much precipitation the state is receiving, but at the California Department of Water Resources in Sacramento, the reality is that it’s just too early to tell if the drought is eradicated because the state’s weather is unpredictable.
According to the website, California Drought Monitor, there is currently less than two percent of what is referred to “exceptional drought” status in the state. This is opposed to the 44 percent that was exceptional drought just over a year ago.
Recent rains even prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to proclaim a state of emergency status in nearly 50 counties.
Mendota and East Porterville suffered from the impact of the drought and became poster children for the drought’s impact. Tulare County is one-of-two California counties considered ground zero.
Many of the state’s reservoirs cannot hold all the precipitation, and against the wishes of farmers and other advocates, water will be released and eventually meander to the ocean. Macías said it’s absolutely necessary for the controlled releases.
“Major Northern California reservoirs, such as Oroville and Folsom, have made water releases to protect downstream areas from flooding per flood control regulations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said Macías.
Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco, whose district includes Mendota, doesn’t want officials to move too soon.
“It’s better than its been, but the drought is not over. As a farmer it makes me sick to my stomach,” said Pacheco about controlled releasing of water from reservoirs.
“I understand they have to control for any flooding, but the reservoirs need to get higher: 100 percent, 98 percent.”
The weather is promising to Mendota Mayor Robert Silva, also a farming advocate. His small community of about 11,000 residents is 45 minutes west of Fresno and majority-populated by Latino farmworkers. Farm work is vital to Mendota.
Silva is a member of the San Joaquín Valley Infrastructure advocating the construction of the Temperance Flat dam above Millerton Lake, and is very optimistic over the recent collection of water in the reservoirs. Friant Dam (at Millerton Lake) was 72 percent filled on Jan. 25.
“It’s going to be a tremendous change from previous struggles, and it (rain) isn’t even over,” said Silva.
Silva believes the past zero allocation of water farmers use for irrigation is now history.
“We had zero water last year, but I haven’t heard any announcements yet. As long as you got water in the reservoirs; the snowpack. It’s inundated all over, and I know there’s going to have to be extra water releases.”
Northwest of Mendota is the San Luis Reservoir, where last August, a person could walk the banks of the lake because of the low level. The reservoir near Los Baños in Merced County, had the lowest water level in 27 years. On Jan. 25, the San Luis Reservoir was at a healthy 78 percent of its 2-million-acre-feet potential.
Hundreds of East Porterville residents lost water pressure because the wells ran dry. Tulare County Emergency Services provided many of these residents 300-gallon tanks for water. A county truck twice weekly filled the containers with non-potable water used for cooking and bathing. Public showers on flatbed trucks, normally used for firefighters, were set up on church parking lots. Water stations handed out bottled water to residents without running water.
And even with all the precipitation this season, residents have yet to sing in the rain.
“Aquifers take time to replenish. After five years of drought, it will take time for groundwater to recover,” added Macías, “Tulare and Santa Bárbara counties are still dealing with severe water shortages. In Tulare County, residents are receiving bottled water while an emergency water supply project is being installed.”
Through recent state and private grants, East Porterville residents can connect to the city’s water system without charge for a limited time. Normally the fee is approximately $10,000.
Further south, Lake Cachuma in Santa Bárbara County is only at 11½ percent (22,322 acre-feet) of capacity.