The drought is devastating San Joaquin Valley farms and leaving parched growers with no choice but to drill ever deeper for water. Tapping the aquifer for more water, we know, isn't sustainable. Nor is it good for the environment.
In the face of likely catastrophe, Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama should act on the requests of California lawmakers — both in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. — and declare a state of emergency.
What would such a declaration accomplish?
It would permit relaxation of some state statutes and regulations that are blocking farmers from obtaining water. In addition, as happened in 2009 when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, water transfers can be expedited.
Presidential recognition of the drought also would expedite water transfers and provide flexibility in regulatory decision-making, as well as provide assistance with water-saving infrastructure improvements.
In a letter sent to Brown on Monday, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, wrote: "Additionally, we request that the California Drought Contingency Plan be updated to include new options and technologies to address ongoing drought conditions and that the State Water Action Plan have a greater emphasis on this year's immediate needs. Every drop of water is important in conditions like these."
A separate letter sent by California Republicans in the House of Representatives and Republican caucuses in the state Assembly and Senate called on Brown and Obama to take immediate action to improve water supplies in 2014.
Long-term answers are needed to the increasingly more difficult challenge of providing sufficient water for homes, business and farms in the nation's most populated state. These include increased storage capacity to capture more runoff in wet years, improved water conveyance systems and additional conservation measures.
Some of these answers may arrive as decisions are made about Brown's twin-tunnels project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the pending state water bond.
But Valley farmers have been put in a vise today by Mother Nature, pumping restrictions imposed by the Endangered Species Act and San Joaquin River restoration. And, with the Valley one of the last regions in America to begin meaningful recovery from the Great Recession, our ag-based economy can't afford the sight of fallow fields this spring and summer.
The time for Brown and Obama to act is now. Valley farmers need water options other than drilling deeper and gambling on a March Miracle.
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