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Executive Summary for January 27th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California, including an update on drought conditions and pressure to rescind the drought emergency measures. We also look at how water issues factor into the governor’s proposed budget.

Published on Jan. 27, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Drought Update

California’s drought continues to ease, with more wet weather helping to fill reservoirs and contributing to a mounting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada – but it has also led to emergency declarations in some areas.

As of Jan. 26, the snow water equivalent statewide for the Sierra snowpack is 189 percent of average for this time of year and already over 100 percent of the April 1 average.

The U.S. Drought Monitor for this week reports that the northern half of California is now out of drought and no parts of the state were designated as experiencing “exceptional drought” – the most severe designation. The last time that occurred was in January 2014.

Precipitation figures from stations in the Sierra are more than twice the normal average and were as high as 226 percent of normal in the southern Sierra on Jan. 26.

On the downside, the increased precipitation has brought flooding, mudslides and avalanches, which prompted the governor, Jerry Brown, to declare a state of emergency in 50 counties.

Water in the Budget

Earlier this month Brown released his proposed budget, which will not be enacted until it is passed by the legislature this summer. The budget contains several items related to funding of water issues.

By the time it is approved, California’s drought emergency may have been called off, but at present the budget contains $188 million for drought-related programs, including $91 million for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to tackle wildfires and the impact of the millions of trees killed by the drought.

There is also money for groundwater law implementation and the Proposition 1 water bond approved in 2014. “This year, the governor proposes appropriating $248 million from the bond for an Integrated Regional Water Management grant program,” reported the Public Policy Institute of California. “These funds are meant to incentivize regional cooperation with the goal of resolving complex water management challenges … while balancing social, environmental and economic objectives.”

Pressure to Call Off Emergency

Despite pressure from water agencies, California officials have not called an end to the state’s drought emergency, although the State Water Resources Control Board will vote on the matter on Feb. 7.

The San Diego County Water Authority took matters into its own hands when its board voted Thursday to “declare an end to drought conditions in the region.” The agency also called on the governor and water board to “rescind the statewide emergency water-use regulation for areas of California that are no longer in drought conditions.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor lists the San Diego region as in moderate to severe drought.

“Telling the public to continue extraordinary, emergency conservation measures when the drought emergency no longer exists undermines the credibility of state and local water agencies and erodes the effectiveness of communications during actual water supply emergencies,” said Mark Muir, chairman of the authority’s board.

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