California facing possible drought as winter holds off

1:11 AM, Dec 21, 2013   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO - As Gov. Jerry Browns forms an interagency taskforce to monitor the potential for serious drought, all Californians are being called on to conserve now and prepare to conserve even more later.

"It's much too early to call yet, but right now it is tracking in parallel with some of our very dry years," California Department of Water Resources Deputy Drought Manager Jeanine Jones said.

"Soil moisture is depleted, reservoir storage is down and even if we had average rainfall statewide, we probably wouldn't see average runoff just because soil moisture is so depleted," Jones added.

Arguably the greatest risk the state would face after another dry winter would be from catastrophic wildfires.

"In fact, a couple of the state's most disastrous wildfire events occurred in Southern California, 2003, 2007, following drought conditions, so that's a big one," Jones explained.

Homeowners in foothills areas, or next to wildlands, are being encouraged to create even more defensible space around their properties.

The Department of Water Resources is one of four state agencies the governor has tasked with tracking the evolving situation over the next few months. Jones said taskforce members from the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Water Resources, the State Water Control Board and the California Office of Emergency Services will be meeting weekly to discuss conditions, think about response actions and see if a formal drought declaration is warranted.

One group at potential risk; homeowners with wells in foothill areas that often run dry in times of drought.

"We encourage people, if your well isn't working as you think it should be, get a well-driller in early, get it maintained, get it looked at," Jones urged.

Another likely issue is the subsidence, or differential settling of soil, in areas where groundwater is pumped to make up for shortages of surface water. Such settling has already damaged irrigation canals and flood control canals in parts of California, especially in parts of the western San Joaquin Valley.

"And you may find yourself in the position of trying to pump water uphill on a canal that formerly flowed by gravity," Jones explained. "Or you might find that you've lost the capacity to contain floodwaters in your flood control system."

A lack of winter precipitation could bring catastrophic losses to California agriculture as water allotments are slashed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources.

Jones said water conservation should be a way of life for all Californians. In dry times, it will be crucial.

"If it is dry, then we really encourage people to be looking at their landscape irrigation controllers, thinking about changing to more water use-efficient plantings, all of those kinds of things," she said.

And this winter, Californians need a generous winter season.

"It certainly is not looking good now in terms of the water supply," Jones said. "But, you know, Mother Nature has made fools of us before in the past and it's a little early to call the game yet."


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