Gov. Jerry Brown set to declare drought emergency

Announcement comes on heels of Capitol water rally

The Sacramento BeeJanuary 16, 2014 

— Gov. Jerry Brown will declare a drought emergency Friday, a source said, after weeks of intensifying pressure on him to take action.

The declaration, which Brown is scheduled to announce at 10 a.m. in San Francisco, comes during one of the driest winters on record in California, following two dry years that already have left many reservoirs depleted.

And it'll come a day after lawmakers representing drought-stricken districts joined with hundreds of their constituents at the state Capitol on Thursday to press for a new water bond measure and the declaration of a drought emergency.

"I see farmers, I see farmworkers; I see people from urban communities and from rural communities, all here today to send one message: that we need water," said Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno.

A procession of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, most representing the Central Valley, took the podium to issue similar pleas. Many called for money to ensure clean drinking water and for more storage capacity, saying it would offset dry years by allowing the state to capture more during years of plentiful rain.

"Additional storage is the key," said Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte. "This year's drought simply underscores how critical the situation has become."

A sea of blue signs reading "sin agua=no ay futuro" (no water, no future) or some variation back-dropped the speakers, highlighting the California Latino Water Coalition's role in organizing the rally.

"2014 is going to be one of California's worst water supply years in recent history," said Mario Santoyo, director of the coalition. He called the shortfall an issue not just for reduced food production, "but more importantly for those that are here, the issue is that when there is no water, there's no jobs."

Helping him make that point were hundreds of people from the central San Joaquin Valley, who got aboard buses in Fresno, Madera, Mendota, Firebaugh, Orange Cove, Visalia, Hanford and Coalinga for the early-morning trip to Sacramento.

The midday rally came as a lack of snow and rain continues to parch most of California, with nearly 90% of the state experiencing severe drought conditions. The Sacramento City Council recently voted to require users to cut back water use by 20% to 30%.

Lawmakers moved an $11.1 billion bond measure to the statewide ballot back in 2009 but have since delayed the vote twice. Some argue the bond is too costly and bloated to win voter approval. A pair of alternative proposals, one in the Senate and one in the Assembly, reflect that skepticism.

Both Assembly Member Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, are seeking to get a smaller bond on the 2014 ballot. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, voiced his support on Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and several state lawmakers began urging Brown last month to declare a drought emergency. Brown appointed a committee to review conditions on the ground.

A formal declaration is considered significant as a public relations tool, increasing awareness of residents and, perhaps, federal officials who could accelerate some relief efforts.

Brown's office said Thursday that Brown would "make a major announcement" in an appearance Friday in San Francisco. The administration declined to disclose the nature of the announcement.

But a declaration has been expected, with Brown indicating repeatedly in recent days that he was close to declaring the emergency, including during a visit to Fresno on Monday.

Still, Brown has suggested the significance of a formal declaration may be overstated.

"I'm trying to understand what physically we can do in the face of this drought, and then legally what steps can I take," the Democratic governor told reporters in Bakersfield on Tuesday.

Brown said a drought declaration could be helpful, "but at the end of the day, if it doesn't rain, California's in for real trouble. And the governor, through a declaration, can't make it rain."

Brown managed a drought in the late 1970s, when he was governor before. At the time he called for a 25% reduction in personal water use statewide and lobbied Washington for federal aid.

Fresno Bee staff contributed to this report. The reporters can be reached at dsiders@sacbee.com, jwhite@sacbee.com or @davidsiders or @jeremybwhite on Twitter.

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