Our View: Time to call California water shortage an emergency

12/12/2013 6:11 PM

12/12/2013 8:11 PM

There’s been a lot of news about water lately, just not enough talk about it falling from the sky.

Basically, we’re in the midst of record-breaking dry year, and we’ve got to take steps now to make sure we don’t run out of water when we really need it.

To that end, many of our state’s politicians are requesting that Gov. Jerry Brown declare a state of drought emergency. The first letter arrived Monday when Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined with Rep. Jim Costa to implore the governor to act. The following day, state senators Tom Berryhill, Anthony Cannella and Andy Vidak joined with five members of the Assembly, including Adam Gray, in a similar letter.

In the face of grim weather forecasts, they’re calling for the governor to take steps such as easing restrictions on water transfers and rule changes that would make it easier for those with water to share it and to require Californians to conserve it.

It brought to mind a similar call from Rep. Devin Nunes during the last dry spell in 2008; he wanted water released from federal impounds such as New Melones for farmers in his district. While that might have had the short-term effect of saving their crops, it could have meant disaster to farmers in our region if 2009 had been just as dry. The releases didn’t take place and 2009 was wetter than normal. Problem solved.

That’s not the case this time around. The actions by the state’s politicians do not smack of a water grab.

As Oakdale Irrigation District general manager Steve Knell pointed out, there’s not enough water in New Melones to make a difference for others without violating rules protecting wildlife.

What could make a difference is putting restrictions on water use now – even if starts raining. Requiring conservation in urban areas. Doing the little things that count. Then, when it does start to rain, we might just have enough water to get us through another dry year. Might.

The real solutions go far beyond telling people to stop watering their lawns or to cut short their showers. The only realistic solution is to create more water storage. The politicians who signed the letters to the governor are among the most aware of this necessity. They get it. Unfortunately, too many others don’t.

Until there is enough political will to create more storage above ground and below, we’re going to find ourselves dealing with water crises every few years.

Gov. Brown should heed the letters sitting on his desk and declare the emergency. But even as he is authorizing short-term fixes, he and others also must recognize that this is a long-term emergency in dire need of long-term solutions.

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