Gov. Jerry Brown ramps up drought action with emergency declaration

The Sacramento BeeApril 25, 2014 

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Gov. Jerry Brown

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE — ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

— Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed a sweeping emergency drought proclamation, cutting red tape for a variety of government functions to help water agencies find new supplies, and to press the public to use water carefully.

"I call on every city, every community, every Californian to conserve water in every way possible," Brown said in a statement. "The driest months are still to come in California and extreme drought conditions will get worse."

The governor first proclaimed a drought emergency Jan. 17. This second proclamation goes further by waiving compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and the state water code for a number of actions, including water transfers, wastewater treatment projects, habitat improvements for winter-run Chinook salmon imperiled by the drought and curtailment of water rights.

It directs state water regulators to accelerate approvals of voluntary water transfers to assist farmers and orders wildlife officials to take steps to help winter-run Chinook salmon and other fish survive the drought.

The order also suspends competitive bidding requirements for drought-related projects undertaken by state agencies, including the departments of Water Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Public Health.

Water agencies and some environmental groups praised the order, saying it strikes a proper balance between emergency response and environmental protection.

Others said it goes too far.

"The danger is the bad precedent this sets for waiving environmental protections," said Jonas Minton, a water adviser at the Planning and Conservation League in Sacramento. "In this dry year, the limitation is not environmental protection. It's the lack of water throughout California."

The order calls on all Californians to avoid using water to clean sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and other hardscapes; to wash vehicles only at car washes that use recycled water; and limit landscape watering to twice weekly.

It encourages outdoor sports facilities to similarly reduce irrigation of playing fields. It urges hotels and restaurants to give patrons options to reduce water consumption, such as limiting laundering of linens and making water available only on request.

It calls on the State Water Resources Control Board to order all local water service providers to adopt these measures as customer requirements, if they have not already.

The proclamation also seeks to plug a loophole that allows homeowner associations to require residents to water lawns, even if this conflicts with local water agency rules, and to fine them if they do not. It declares "void and unenforceable" any such provision of a homeowner association governing document.

The state has seen a significant increase in wildfires this year, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Since Jan. 1, firefighters have responded to 1,040 wildfires, compared to about 425 in an average year.

Limited late rainfall has done little to combat the dry conditions that will feed wildfires, he said.

"The drought has definitely set the stage for a potentially dangerous and busy fire season," Berlant said. "We've increased our staffing much earlier with the potential of a lot more wildfires with just how dry it is."

He urged homeowners to do their part by preparing for the wildfire season much earlier, such as clearing brush within 100 feet of homes.

Resources Agency spokesman Richard Stapler said the additional executive order was needed for some specific steps, including speeding the installation of fish screens on water intakes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, fish habitat improvement projects and permitting water districts to restrict outdoor watering.

The new order is designed "to make sure we're addressing everything we possibly can," said Stapler, who commented on behalf of Brown's administration. "There are a lot of different pieces of this that we need to continue to address."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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