California Experiencing ‘Volatile Year’


Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January after California experienced the driest year on record. The declaration has not yielded the levels of water conservation expected or desired. The year 2013 was recorded as the driest year historically, and CAL FIRE Drought Information Officer Scott McClane called 2014 “a volatile year.”

But awareness has not necessarily increased because of the hot summer months, said McClane.

“There’s a constant educational aspect involved,” he said citing awareness campaigns that began this year in January, and will continue through the summer and into October, when fire season is at its worst.

Regarding Gov. Jerry Brown’s sought-after 20% cut in water usage, McClane said that California has fallen far short.

“We have not met the 20% which we need to meet,” he said. “Even during the 1977 drought, we did a fantastic job with water conservation.”

The extremely low precipitation of 1976 and 1977 led to changes in water management practices statewide. A temporary emergency pipeline was constructed on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and was removed five years later after the drought risk had passed. Brown also called for a reduction in water use during his first stint as governor.

But a recent survey of water agencies reported only a 5% decrease in usage through May.

The State Water Resources Control board has considered adopting statewide emergency regulations regarding the reduction of water use. These regulations, if adopted, would punish those who use water in excess with fines equaling up to $500 per day. Water agencies will also face scrutiny for wasting water under the threat of fines. Water districts throughout the state are offering rebates for customers who keep their usage down, particularly on outdoor irrigation.

Though the summer has not necessarily increased the risk of fire, McClane said that CAL FIRE and similar fire prevention agencies are heavily promoting water conservation.

“Water sources are drying,” said McClane, a problem that he said has only put more pressure on firefighters. Resources such as firefighting aircraft, which can drop water, foam, gel and other fire retardants, have become vital with the lack of available water.

“A gallon saved by you is one we might need down the line,” said McClane.

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