By Joe Tash
A request for declaration of a California “drought emergency” by two members of Congress has local water officials keeping a wary eye on water supplies.
“We’re fine this [coming] year but we’re concerned about the next year and we’re watching it closely,” said Michael Bardin, general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water to customers in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.
Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Jim Costa wrote to California Gov. Jerry Brown, asking him to declare a state drought emergency, and to request a disaster declaration from President Barack Obama.
“What is clear is that we have had two years of dry conditions that have depleted our reservoirs and reduced carryover storage to historically low levels not seen since 1977… This is going to be a very challenging water year for California and a potentially catastrophic year for the Central Valley in particular,” the lawmakers wrote.
The state declaration would allow such measures as relaxing or suspending some state regulations, and promotion of water conservation. At the federal level, a declaration would facilitate assistance with infrastructure improvements and flexibility in regulatory decision-making, the letter said.
Although rainfall totals are down in San Diego this year — the National Weather Service reported that through Dec. 16, rainfall at Lindbergh Field was 76 percent of normal —the real problem is lack of rain and snow in the Sierras and the Rocky mountains, said Bardin.
Those are the areas that feed the large reservoirs that serve California, and are impacted by lower than normal precipitation. Low levels of rain and snow mean water agencies are depleting their water reserves, Bardin said.
“We’re living off storage we’ve built up,” he said, adding, “If this continues there will be cutbacks in the west. We would like a lot of rain this winter.”
For now, the Santa Fe Irrigation District is not contemplating water-use restrictions for its customers, he said.
The district last imposed water-use restrictions in 2009, including a requirement that all residential and commercial customers cut back on water use by 6 percent. Those restrictions were lifted in 2011. Brown rescinded a state drought emergency in March 2011 that was declared in 2008-09 by his predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.