News


State declares water drought emergency

State officials will ask Gov. Brown to mandate the emergency within weeks

The state of California's water supply is in a third year of drought and is prompting the Governor Jerry Brown to call a drought emergency.

State and federal water officials met in Sacramento on earlier this month to discuss diminishing water resources in rivers and reservoirs, many of which have dropped to levels that cannot be lowered further, they said. State officials expressed concern for how to get adequate water to cities if the drought deepens. Meanwhile, some farmers in the Central Valley have seen their water allocations eliminated completely.

Water conservation practices during wet years and a 10 percent water-use reduction have left Hetch Hetchy Reservoir -- Palo Alto's water source -- with enough water Nicole Sandkulla, CEO and general manager of the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, told the Weekly Jan. 7. But she urged residents to conserve water whenever they can.

"It's obvious that this is a dry California year," she said, adding that the agency is in a "wait-and-see mode."

The agency is composed of 26 cities receiving drinking water from Hetch Hetchy. Hetch Hetchy is run by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

Water officials in Sacramento did not have a rosy view of rainfall through March. They asked Gov. Jerry Brown to declare the emergency in February but decided to immediately ask for the emergency after learning that farmers anticipating water will plow their fields this month to plant crops. Officials said the emergency should be declared before plowing occurs, since the dry, plowed land could create dust-bowl conditions, such as dust storms, if farmers later lose their water allocations.

A similar scenario occurred in November 1991, when winds whipped up plowed, desiccated soil, causing a blinding dust storm that caused a 100-car pileup on Interstate 5 and trapped hundreds of Thanksgiving holiday drivers in the San Joaquin Valley, they said.

Hetchy Hetchy water comes from the Sierra snowpack, which is currently at 20 percent of normal levels, according to state officials. But Sandkulla noted that the water year begins in late October to early November. "It's still early in the water year," she said.

More than half of precipitation in the Sierras occurs between December and February, she said. A final determination of the water situation will take place in mid-April, she said.

If a catastrophic drought were to occur, drought allocations for SFPUC water have distinct rules and a formula about who gets water, she said. The agreement allows some flexibility if there is a system-wide cutback greater than 20 percent. "But we've never had that happen," she said.

The meeting at the California State Board of Food and Agriculture included presentations by the California Department of Water Resources, State Water Resources Control Board, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, water district representatives, the Northern California Water Association and other conservation agencies, who discussed U.S. Department of Agriculture drought programs.

--Craig Dremann contributed to this report.

Comments

Posted by Magnus, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 8, 2014 at 10:32 am

Perhaps now Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mtn. View will monitor or turn off their over zealous water sprinklers along the El Camino median. Every morning pure, fresh drinking water is pouring onto the pavement.


Posted by DT North, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2014 at 10:55 am

Or how about some incentives to install gray water irrigation systems? Also many of the school and park lawns are irrigated to the point of muddiness. Who is in charge of that?!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2014 at 12:28 pm

85% of the state's water goes to agriculture, which produces 3% of the state's GDP. Most of this water is heavily subsidized in one way or another. Don't even bother asking about Jerry Brown's Delta tunnels.

We have a plumbing problem, not a water problem. It's Chinatown, Jake.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm

There is ample water available for outdoor use that is produced by the Palo Alto water treatment plant--if it could be transported back into the residential areas. It wouldn't be that hard (expensive) to pipe it across Highway 101 to the Greer Park area--but under-grounding it much farther would be a problem. It could be trucked around town, but that would prove expensive too, since the City costs out labor at over $110K/employee.

If the City were to take a long-term view of the matter, and say put away a couple hundred thousand dollars a year into a Reserve Fund to pay for running a pipe for recovered water from the baylands back to some point closer to where it is needed, this would eventually provide enough money to get the initial construction done.

Even if the water was only used by the City, and School District, this would save a lot of money, over time, on watering grass .. as well as reduce the aggregate demand for water from Hetch Hetchy.


Posted by basement question, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Just curious about those permitted to have basements with the pipes draining out all the (groundwater? if that is the correct term).
I understood basements were not permitted in my neighborhood and now someone will in fact be building one (1st one one my street, to my knowledge).
I know we get Hetch Hetchy water here for our water service, but what is the effect of the Old Palo Alto and other residential homeowners who have those pipes draining basement water to the storm drains...?
Like an above post from Mr. Martin, with whom I typically agree, I wonder if something can be done to recycle or reuse groundwater -


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm

@Resident - Agriculture is less than 3% of GDP these days, but that is a silly number to look at. Try looking at your dinner table instead. If you cut water to agriculture then food prices will skyrocket, and poorer families will be disproportionately affected. I'd rather cut off the water at golf courses..


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2014 at 4:05 pm

@Basement Question
The City does not restrict basement construction for commercial/office or
residential projects, which might require dewatering of sites with the loss
of millions of gallons of water pumped into the storm drains and out to
the Bay. The dewatering is not allowed during the normal rainy season so as to not overload the storm drains. FEMA however does not allow basement construction in designated flood zones in the City.


Posted by Ms.Conservation, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2014 at 4:26 pm

I'm with Mr. Recycle. Reduce water to California's 1,236 golf courses (golflink). Per NPR, "Audubon International estimates that the average American course uses 312,000 gallons per day. In a place like Palm Springs, where 57 golf courses challenge the desert, each course eats up a million gallons a day. That is, each course each day in Palm Springs consumes as much water as an American family of four uses in four years."

They should start with using gray water,


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2014 at 5:08 pm

@Mr Recycle,

You'll get no defense of golf courses from me. But yes, given I'm going to pay, then I'd rather pay it higher prices for food, than pay it in subsidies so guys who want to grow rice in the desert or flood irrigate can have water that's cheaper than it really costs.


Posted by Tina P, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Why are people ok with more and more government restraints on use of resources, but unable to talk about the underlying problem - too many people. Why do we acquiesce to water rationing, gas rationing and gas mileage standards, banning plastic bag use (all good for other reasons) but then refuse to admit that numbers of people are the problem? What good does it do to cut water use in half if the population in California will double in the next 25 years? Nothing is gained. We need to start dealing with the real problem here - again too many people - before we need four tunnels to drain the Delta and kill all the animals and plants in the process.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm


> If you cut water to agriculture then food prices will skyrocket,

California's Top Ten Crops--

Web Link

Milk — $6.9 billion
Grapes — $4.449 billion
Almonds — $4.347 billion
Nursery plants — $3.543 billion
Cattle, Calves — $3.299 billion
Strawberries — $1.939 billion
Lettuce — $1.448 billion
Walnuts — $1.349 billion
Hay — $1.237 billion
Tomatoes — $1.170 billion
---

Some years ago I remember reading an article about how water was used in California's agricultural sector. As I remember, the article claimed that about 85% of the water was used to produce about 15% of the Agricultural GDP. One example offered was the growing of rice somewhere in the northern counties. Rice is a heavy consumer of water, but not a large generator of funds.

The Agricultural Stat Review on the link provided (bottom left) is a good place to start looking at how much money each of the crops generates. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a ready correlation to water needed to bring each of these crops to market in this document.


Posted by water conscious, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Roughly 70% of our fresh water goes to agriculture, 10% domestic/municipal, 20% industry. Diet has a dramatic impact on water consumption. To produce 1 kg of grain requires approximately 1,500 litres of water while 1 kg of beef requires 15,000 litres.



Posted by CresentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:25 am

Resident's right ...

>> 85% of the state's water goes to agriculture, which produces 3% of the state's GDP. Most of this water is heavily subsidized in one way or another. Don't even bother asking about Jerry Brown's Delta tunnels.

Very small changes in the agricultural practices can lead to large savings in water and infrastructure spending.

From what I see as I walk and drive around, no one seems to be taking water conservation very seriously, like the city , businesses or my neighbors for that matter.

Turning the bay into a mud hole and killing off the environment here is not really going to help anything in the long run. We all know it, but there is too much money in a system driven by money to be made.

All systems failing is the problem, just when we need them most and need people who can manage and evolve them.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:33 am

I agree with Tina too .... we should implement the one child policy similar to what China has, but if you have more than the one child here you would just pay much more in taxes for whatever bracket you are in.

The problem thought with looking at the problem as too many people is that is just not much you can do about it. The only way is to begin to change things slowly so that they who have the kids make the choices to pay for the extra resources and services they use as well as their burden on the planet we all need to somehow find a way to manage.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2014 at 7:15 am

How much water is used to grow alfalfa for rapidly-growing exports to China and Dubai? Water for this crop should pay urban market prices rather than agricultural prices. Easy to collect as an export tax.

Web Link


Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 9:56 am

People who think population growth is the problem need to a) realize that global population growth is not only slowing down significantly due in large part to all the technology we and other tech areas have been putting out for decades & decades; and b) that California's own population growth has nothing to do with number of children per family, but rather the strong economy our technology-driven, beautiful state has.

To repeat, global population growth is slowing down, will continue to accelerate its slow-down, and CA's population growth is due to our strong economy, which in turn is due to population-growth-slowing technology. Get the conundrum?

There are as many articles on the population growth slowing trend as one could care to find, but here are a couple:

Web Link

Web Link

FYI to PA youth reading this - during the drought ~1990, we rented a water truck, filled it with free PA water treatment plant treated water, and charged PA, MP, Atherton & Los Altos homeowners a pretty penny to water their lawns/plants/trees. Someone ought to do this again!


Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2014 at 10:56 am

The golf course in Palo Alto is no problem, they are bulldozing it! It uses recycled water. If everyone in California payed the same price for a gallon of water plus the deleviery cost our problems would be over.


Posted by C. Nicholas, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:15 am

It is a people problem. A given volume of water divided among fewer people means more water per person.

We should return to a traditional rainmaking method: human sacrifice. Right now probably have more than enough people to keep doing it for a decade or so.


Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I wonder how many of you have water thirsty lawns? How many companies have acres of them? That is where water should be turned off first.


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