Task Force to Expedite Drought Preparedness
Association of California Water Agencies (CDWA) announced TODAY that Gov. Jerry Brown has directed state officials to begin meeting weekly to assess whether a drought declaration is needed.

Governor Jerry Brown

Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director Mark Cowin, State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus, California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci were instructed to immediately convene an interagency Drought Task Force, in a Dec. 17 letter addressed to those officials.

 “We must do everything we can to address the impacts of water shortages and move water from where it is available to where it is needed,” Brown wrote.

DWR Director Mark Cowin

The governor mentioned actions such as a clearinghouse for water shortage information, regional assessments, infrastructure improvements and trucking water. Last spring Brown directed state agencies to cut red tape for voluntary water transfers.

The impetuses for the task force, Brown said, are this year’s record-dry conditions and the unusually low 5% initial water allocation of requested deliveries projected from the State Water Project.

 “The federal government likely will soon follow suit,” Brown wrote, referring to the Central Valley Project.

The California DWR subsequently appointed two experienced managers to review water allocations and the state’s preparedness for what could be a third consecutive dry year in 2014, as well as coordinate with federal and local agencies.

DWR Director Mark Cowin has appointed Bill Croyle to lead the effort as department drought manager. Croyle has 30 years of experience in water operations, including seven years as DWR’s flood operations chief and 23 years with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Cowin tapped Jeanine Jones as deputy drought manager. Also a 30-year veteran of DWR, Jones has directed the department’s statewide planning program and worked on climate change adaptation programs as DWR’s interstate resources manager.

Cowin said the goal of the drought preparedness effort is to mitigate harm to Californians and the state’s economy, particularly farmers who must operate with markedly less water than needed for crops and those who rely on groundwater. Especially vulnerable to dry conditions will be farmers –and the farm communities that depend on agricultural jobs — on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

DWR will also be watching for drinking water impacts in small rural communities whose fractured rock groundwater sources will be stressed by a third dry year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared California a drought disaster area in September.

As Background, CDFA and CWC held a joint meeting concerning the state’s water supply back on September 10th in Sacramento.

On December 9, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa (D-16) sent a joint letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to declare a statewide drought emergency that would activate the state’s emergency plan and permit some relaxation of state regulations concerning water.

California members of the U.S. Congress and California State Legislature issued a letter to President Obama and Governor Brown On December. They urged immediate use of executive authority to mitigate the catastrophic effects of another natural drought exacerbated by environmental regulations to avoid jeopardizing our state’s trillion-dollar economy, to develop and implement comprehensive water plans that include additional storage and water rights, and to allocate any unanticipated water supplies to California’s families and farms and not to the Pacific. 

“It’s still early in the water year,” Cowin said in a statement Tuesday. “The January and February snow surveys will allow us to evaluate water conditions on a statewide basis. As we monitor water conditions, we will consider actions to be included in a potential governor’s drought proclamation.”

DWR and the Brown administration are working on an array of issues related to the ongoing dry conditions. In response to Brown’s direction last spring for DWR to take action to streamline water transfers, Cowin said the department is bringing in more expertise to work on the issue.

DWR also is working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the federal and state wildlife agencies to improve Delta operations in 2014 to improve water delivery.

“Voluntary water transfers will be key to DWR’s drought response, as they hold the potential to alleviate critical shortages,” Cowin said. “We are making arrangements to bring additional resources with expertise in water transfers to advise the Drought Management Team to assure that the 2014 water transfers approval process is administered efficiently.”

DWR has released a schedule and process for streamlining water transfers in 2014, as directed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s May 20 executive order. “We will continue to work with voluntary buyers, sellers, the State Water Resources Control Board and the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure an efficient process,” Cowin said.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Rosscomplimented DWR on its efforts to respond quickly. “While 2014 water allocations are not finalized until spring, farmers and ranchers make key decisions in January and February,” said Secretary Ross. “By acting now to streamline water transfers and provide clarity, the administration is helping our agricultural communities prepare for the coming water year.”

The department also is hosting workshops to prepare communities for dry conditions. The State Water Resources Control Board will discuss potential future actions related to drought at a Jan. 7 California State Board of Food and Agriculture meeting.

Sources: Matt Williams, ACWA: Water News