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DROUGHT: Calif. governor declares state of emergency

January 17, 2014

A satellite captured these photos of the Sierra Nevada in 2013 (l) and in 2014, showing a drastic difference in snowpack. State officials have said this is one of the driest years on record. Images courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of drought emergency for California Friday, asking residents to cut their water use by at least 20 percent.
Locally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that Inyo and Mono are among dozens of California and Nevada counties that have been designated primary natural disaster areas due to drought.
Farmers and ranchers in the affected counties qualify for natural disaster assistance as of Jan. 15.
“Our hearts go out to those farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in out nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”
All affected counties are eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met.
“I talked to the Farm Agency person and she indicated that there are some people in our area who are participating,” Inyo Ag Commissioner Nate Reade said. “The drought has been extremely tough on our ag producers, which is number two in the county as an economic contributor” behind tourism.
“The FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.”
Likewise, the U.S. Small Businesses Administration announced this week that small, nonfarm businesses in California and Nevada counties, as well as neighboring counties in Arizona, Idaho and Oregon, are now eligible to apply for low-interest federal disaster loans due to the state of emergency.
“These loans offset economic losses because of reduced revenues caused by the drought that began Sept. 1, 2013,” said Acting SBA Disaster Field Operations Center-West Director Tanya N. Garfield. “SBA eligibility covers both the economic impacts on businesses dependent on farmers and ranchers that have suffered agricultural production losses caused by the disaster and businesses directly impacted by the disaster.”
Eligibility for the disaster loan is based on the financial impact of the disaster drought, and not on any actual property damage.
The loans have an interest rate of 4 percent for businesses and 2.875 percent for private, non-profit organizations and are available to small businesses and most private, non-profits without the financial ability to offset impacts of the disaster.
By law, the SBA makes disaster loans available when the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture designates an agricultural disaster.
Farms and ranches are not eligible for the SBA disaster loans, as those loans are covered by the FSA. However, the FSA said nurseries are eligible for its disaster assistance.
The deadline to apply for these loans is Sept. 15.
Governor Brown said Friday that the state is experiencing “perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago.
“It’s important to wake all Californians to the serious matter of the drought and lack of rain,” Brown told reporters. “We are in a unprecedented, very serious situation that people should pause and reflect on how dependent we are on the rain, nature and one other.
“This is an effort to call for arms,” he continued. “That’s the point of the declaration.”
Brown said he would set into motion an initiative that would make water transfers easier between regions in the state.
Reade said the state government is streamlining the process of transferring water from federal to state lands. “The idea is to give state agencies more latitude in decisions about water transfers in the context of permitting and reviews about transfers. Right now it takes a lot of time and they want to streamline it,” Reade said.
Reade added that CalFire is increasing its staffing levels in anticipation of extreme fire hazards, and state officials are developing contingency plans should areas of the state run out of water this summer.
Currently the snowpack in California’s mountains is at 20 percent of normal levels and, according to CNN, the state’s largest water reservoirs are below record lows, and the major waterways, including the Sacramento and the San Joaquin rivers, flow with “significantly reduced” water.
In response to the declaration of a state of drought emergency Friday, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issued a press release stating that L.A. residents use less water per capita than residents of any major U.S. city with a population more than 1 million. “Los Angeles’ Mandatory Water Conservation Ordinance, which was strengthened in 2009, has resulted in unprecedented levels of water savings by LADWP’s 680,000 water customers.”
The LADWP and other Southern California water agencies have invested in storage over the past decade. “Together with a strong conservation program, these investments will allow us to weather the current shortage,” the press release states. “But we need to redouble our commitment to conservation and make sure all of us are fully complying with current water use restrictions and reducing our water use.”
L.A. officials are asking residents across the city to look for more ways to reduce their water use and are offering rebates through LADWP as extra incentive.
More information on LADWP’s water conservation programs, regulations and rebate incentives can be found at www.ladwp.com/WaterConservation.

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