California’s drought emergency

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The drought has forced Schwarzenegger to take drastic action, writes Kath Shandling. His USD11.9 billion bond proposal will be ballotted in November.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state- wide drought emergency earlier this month – the first since 1991. The move comes on the back of two straight years of below-average rainfall, low snowmelt run- off, and the largest court-ordered water transfer restriction in the country.

The California Department of Water Resources has been directed to facilitate appropriate water transfers to respond to emergency shortages, and will work with local water districts to improve coordination, water efficiency and conservation, as well as coordinating with other state and federal agencies to assist water suppliers, identify risks to water supply, and help farmers. The DWR will also expedite exist- ing grant programmes that seek to aid local water districts and agencies in conservation initiatives.

The governor has said that tackling the state’s water shortage is one of his most urgent priorities, and has proposed a com- prehensive approach that also includes more surface and groundwater storage. Floyd Wicks, CEO of Golden State Water Company, told GWI that there is a commit- ment by the California-based water companies to “work cooperatively with Governor Schwarzenegger”, and to raise customer awareness about “the need to conserve water.” According to Wicks, a “no-action alternative is unacceptable.”

Governor Schwarzenegger is bullish about expanding new investment resources for the state’s ageing water infrastructure, and has renewed efforts to press the state legislature to issue an USD11.9 billion water bond. Wesley Strickland of law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck told GWI that “any bond package would have to be approved by the California voters, and while the voters have generally approved water bonds in the past, the size of this proposal and the state of the economy could erode that support.” Additionally, there are components outlined in the bond proposal that are environmentally controversial, such as a USD3.5 billion new water storage facility. Even so, with the November ballot still five months away, the state legislature and the voters may yet be swayed, especially if drought conditions persist.