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News: California Urges All Residents to Cut Water Use By 20 Percent

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    http://www.sacbee.com/378/story/1641720.html California urges all to cut water use by 20 percent By Matt Weiser and Jim Downing mweiser@sacbee.com Published:
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 22, 2009
      News: California Urges All Residents to Cut Water Use By 2

      California urges all to cut water use by 20 percent

      By Matt Weiser and Jim Downing
      Published: Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 1A

      Illustration Omitted:
            Water levels are low at Shasta Lake. Shasta reservoir, the state's largest, is only 35 percent full, which means no water for farmers served by the federal Central Valley Project. MANNY CRISOSTOMO/mcrisostomo@...

      State water officials sent out an urgent call Friday to all Californians, urging an immediate 20 percent cut in water use to ease a drought that could be the next serious hit to California's economy.

      The conservation plea came as state and federal water managers announced delivery forecasts that, combined, are the worst ever in the state.

      Results in the farm sector alone could include higher food prices and severe unemployment as thousands of acres are fallowed.

      "Bottom line: This is going to be a tough year for us," said Donald Glaser, regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, manager of the federal water system in California

      There's a glimmer of hope in rain and snow forecast for next week. Yet, on Friday, Glaser told farmers served by the federal Central Valley Project they will get no water this year. This includes customers in the Sacramento Valley because Shasta reservoir, the state's largest, is only 35 percent full.

      Officials aimed a warning at those who thought recent storms broke the drought:

      California is already deep into a third year of drought, with little of winter left to make up ground.

      "These storms have been great, but they have done nothing to alleviate the drought," said Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

      "You've got to think about water as a precious commodity," he added. "It is relatively easy to reduce your water use by 20 percent. We need to do that now."

      The State Water Project, which serves some 23 million California residents, also warned customers Friday they will get only 15 percent of normal deliveries.

      In response to the dire water forecasts, the city of Roseville on Friday imposed a 20 percent conservation order for all customers. Folsom and the San Juan Water District will soon do the same.

      A drought emergency declared by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year remains in effect. If anything, the emergency has only grown. There are plenty of grim numbers to tell the tale:

      * January, normally California's wettest month, produced only 31.8 percent of normal precipitation statewide this year.

      * Water officials say without more storms, runoff from the snowpack will be only 57 percent of average - far from enough to refill reservoirs.

      * With little time left in winter, state climatologists estimate there's only a 10 percent chance the snowpack will return to "normal" conditions.

      Adding concern is California's population, which has grown by more than 9 million since the last major drought in 1992. Farmers also have converted more than 500,000 acres to permanent crops like orchards and vineyards, which can't be fallowed.

      "We've had a much greater demand component come on board," said Mark Svoboda, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska, who will visit Woodland on Thursday to host a drought seminar for farmers.

      "We don't have any margin for buffering this," he said. "It's a sleeping giant, just waiting to come out of dormancy if we do not get rain and snow over the next one or two months."

      Many farmers will attempt to tap groundwater. But water tables are already low after heavy pumping last year. Some are trying to buy water from other farmers, trading that's driving up water prices.

      Most will have to take land out of production and slash planting of low-value crops like cotton.

      Richard Howitt, economist at UC Davis, estimates about 850,000 acres will go unplanted this year - about 12 percent of irrigated farmland in the Central Valley. This could put 40,000 people out of work.

      Mark Borba, who farms 8,500 acres in Fresno County, will leave about 20 percent of his land unplanted. He's reduced wheat and lettuce crops and plans to abandon cotton altogether. He's focusing on keeping his almond trees alive and growing processing tomatoes, which are fetching a good price this year.

      Borba is also considering layoffs in his staff of 47 full-time and 135 part-time workers.

      "The writing is now on the wall," he said.

      Land fallowing and smaller harvests are likely to push food prices higher, said Jim Prevor, editor of Produce Business magazine. But he said farmers elsewhere in the country - and internationally - are likely to take up much of the slack.

      "For months now, the whole industry has been gearing toward the expectation that there is not going to be enough water in California," Prevor said.

      Lester Snow at the Department of Water Resources said he expects all urban water agencies to begin imposing mandatory rationing within 60 days. Many have done so already, including most of the state's large urban areas.

      In the Sacramento region, agencies affected by Friday's news include those that depend on Folsom Lake, managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In addition to its agricultural forecast, the bureau told urban customers they would get just 50 percent of normal water deliveries.

      Roseville ordered residents to cut use 20 percent. Commercial customers must reduce landscape irrigation 30 percent. Increased water-waste patrols will ensure compliance.

      The San Juan Water District sells Folsom Lake water to neighboring Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks and Orangevale. It will soon require all customers to trim use by 20 percent.

      "People should not be irrigating now," said Shauna Lorance, district general manager. "Save the water for later."

      The city of Folsom will also set a mandatory 20 percent conservation target as part of a "Stage Three" water warning within the next week or two.

      The city of Sacramento has among the state's most stable water supplies and has not announced any rationing steps. But a workshop on water conservation is planned for the City Council on Tuesday.

      Also threatened by the drought are water flows needed to protect aquatic habitat and endangered species.

      Call The Bee's Matt Weiser, (916) 321-1264.

         * * *


      Drought Adds to Hardships in California

      Illustration Omitted:
               A farmers'-market-style food handout at Valley Life Community Church in Selma, Calif., helps many families. Heidi Schumann for The New York Times

      Published: February 21, 2009

      MENDOTA, Calif. - The country's biggest agricultural engine, California's sprawling Central Valley, is being battered by the recession like farmland most everywhere. But in an unlucky strike of nature, the downturn is being deepened by a severe drought that threatens to drive up joblessness, increase food prices and cripple farms and towns.

      Illustration Omitted:
              Mendota "is dying on the vine," its mayor lamented. More Photos »

      Across the valley, towns are already seeing some of the worst unemployment in the country, with rates three and four times the national average, as well as reported increases in all manner of social ills: drug use, excessive drinking and rises in hunger and domestic violence.

      With fewer checks to cash, even check-cashing businesses have failed, as have thrift stores, ice cream parlors and hardware shops. The state has put the 2008 drought losses at more than $300 million, and economists predict that this year's losses could swell past $2 billion, with as many as 80,000 jobs lost.

      "People are saying, 'Are you a third world country?' " said Robert Silva, the mayor of Mendota, which has a 35 percent unemployment rate, up from the more typical seasonal average of about 20 percent. "My community is dying on the vine."

      Even as rains have washed across some of the state this month, greening some arid rangeland, agriculture officials say the lack of rain and the prospect of minimal state and federal water supplies have already led many farmers to fallow fields and retreat into survival mode with low-maintenance and low-labor crops.

      Last year, during the second year of the drought, more than 100,000 acres of the 4.7 million in the valley were left unplanted, and experts predict that number could soar to nearly 850,000 acres this year.

      All of which could mean shorter supplies and higher prices in produce aisles - California is the nation's biggest producer of tomatoes, almonds, avocados, grapes, artichokes, onions, lettuce, olives and dozens of other crops - and increased desperation for people like Agustin Martinez, a 20-year veteran of the fields who generally makes $8 an hour picking fruit and pruning.

      "If I don't have work, I don't live," said Mr. Martinez, a 39-year-old father of three who was waiting in a food line in Selma, southeast of Fresno. "And all the work is gone."

      In Mendota, the self-described cantaloupe center of the world, a walk through town reveals young men in cowboy hats loitering, awaiting the vans that take workers to the fields. None arrive.

      The city's main drag has a few quiet businesses - a boxing gym, a liquor store - and tellingly, two busy pool halls. The owner of one hall, Joseph R. Riofrio, said that his family had also long owned a grocery and check-cashing business in town, but that he had just converted to renting movies, figuring that people would rather stay at home in hard times.

      "We're not going to give up," Mr. Riofrio said. "But people are doing bad."

      Just down the highway in Firebaugh, José A. Ramírez, the city manager, said a half-dozen businesses in its commercial core had closed, decimating the tax base and leaving him to "tell the Little League they'd have to paint their own lines" on the local diamond.

      The situation is particularly acute in towns along the valley's western side, where farmers learned on Friday that federal officials anticipate a "zero allocation" of water from the Central Valley Project, the huge New Deal system of canals and reservoirs that irrigates three million acres of farmland. If the estimate holds and springtime remains dry, it would be first time ever that farmers faced a season-long cutoff from federal waters.

      "Farmers are very resilient, we make things happen, but we've never had a zero allocation," said Stephen Patricio, president of Westside Produce, a melon handler and harvester. "And I might not be very good at math, but zero means zero."

      While California has suffered severe dry spells before, including a three-year stint ending in 1977 and a five-year drought in the late '80s and early '90s, the ill effects now are compounded by the recession and other factors.

      Federal, state and local officials paint a grim picture of a system taxed as it has never been before by a growing population, environmental concerns and a labyrinth of water supply contracts and agreements, some dating to the early 20th century. In addition to the federal water supplies, farmers can irrigate with water provided by the state authorities, drawn from wells and bought or transferred from other farmers. Such water may not always be the best quality, said Mark Borba, a fourth-generation farmer in Huron, Calif.

      "But it's wet," he said.

      Richard Howitt, the chairman of the agricultural and resource economics department at the University of California, Davis, estimates that 60,000 to 80,000 jobs could be lost - including in ancillary businesses - and that as much as $2.2 billion in crop and other losses could be caused by restrictions on water and the drought, which he called "hydrologically as bad as 1977 and economically as bad as 1991."

      "You're talking about field workers, processing handlers, people packing melons, trucking hay, sprayers, people selling tractors, people selling lunches to people selling tractors," Mr. Howitt said. "And in some of these small west-side towns, it's going to hit the people who are least able to adapt to it."

      One of the hardest hit areas is the farmland served by the Westlands Water District, which receives water exclusively from the Central Valley Project and distributes it to 600,000 acres in Fresno and Kings Counties. Sarah Woolf, a spokeswoman for the district, said that her 700 members expected to leave 300,000 to 400,000 acres fallow and that some might not come back to farm at all.

      "Everyone's trying to go down fighting," Ms. Woolf said. "But there will be significant companies that will go out of business, as well as families that have been farming for generations, if it doesn't get better."

      The outlook for things getting better quickly is dim, despite forecasts of rain this week. Last month, California officials estimated the snowpack in the Sierra, a primary source of water for the state when it melts in the spring, at 61 percent of normal. On Friday, the State Department of Water Resources said it would deliver just 15 percent of its promised contracts, a level it was able to maintain only because of the recent spate of rain. "It's pathetic," said Lester A. Snow, the department's director.

      Lynette Wirth, a spokeswoman for the United States Bureau of Reclamation, said water levels in all federally managed reservoirs in California were well below normal, with "abysmal" carryover from the previous year.

      "There's been no meaningful precipitation since last March," Ms. Wirth said.

      Farmers, of course, are also dealing with issues unrelated to rain, including tight credit from banks and recent court decisions meant to protect fish that have limited the transfer of water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which feeds snowmelt to farmbound canals. Many farmers refer to a "man-made drought" caused by restrictions.

      At the same time, environmental groups say they also fear a range of potential problems, including depletion of the valley aquifer from well pumping, possible dust-bowl conditions in areas of large patches of fallow ground and concern about salmon and other species. "It's a tough year for the environment, and people," said Doug Obegi, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

      ***   NOTICE:  In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed, without profit, for research and educational purposes only.   ***

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