Article By Amy Gittersohn
April 8, 2015
Although last week Gov. Jerry Brown ordered water use reductions across the state, the two largest water suppliers in Trinity County are not immediately requiring their customers to cut consumption.
Brown’s executive order came after the April 1 snow survey turned up the lowest snowpack ever recorded. Statewide the snowpack was 5 percent of average, and the snowpack for the Trinity River Basin was 6 percent of average. Although the mountains received some snow in the past week, the amounts still pale in comparison to the average.
For the first time in state history, Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent over 2013.
From the Weaverville Community Services District, General Manager Wes Scribner said customers have been calling to see how this will affect them. Before he can answer that question, Scribner said, the state water board must meet and formulate regulations that carry out the governor’s mandate. The board is expected to consider proposed regulations May 1.
“Until we see that we don’t have much to act on,” Scribner said, adding that when the district does, “there will be plenty of notification for folks.”
For example, he said one issue that needs to be clarified is if it is a 25 percent cut for the district as a whole or per capita, a number that can change — particularly when residents from outside the district have purchased water from WCSD when their sources went dry.
However, Scribner said, the district will probably go into Stage 1 of its water shortage policy which encourages customers to conserve. Technically, the district is nowhere near the threshold for Stage 1 which looks at usage versus supply and treatment capacity, but “California has hit the threshold,” he noted. “If it rained every week throughout the summer we’re still going to have some hard times.”
The district might be better off than the rest of the state but “we’re being proactive,” he said, and working with other agencies to find ways to be more efficient. Customers also are encouraged to keep track of their usage shown on their bills.
In 2014 the average household connected to the WCSD used 575 cubic feet of water a month from the district in the winter and just under 2,500 cubic feet in the summer.
From Trinity County Waterworks District #1 in Hayfork, General Manager Craig Hair said he had not yet read the governor’s declaration, but for the moment “we are going to attack the drought like we would normally attack the drought… We sympathize with the governor’s plight of trying to make one size fit all for the whole state of California.”
Last week he noted that if it rained over the weekend the district’s reservoir would be overflowing, and said it makes little sense to tell local customers they have to cut back “because some guy in Bakersfield is out of water.”
Hair said his board might decide differently, but at this point decisions are based on the local situation.
The governor’s order also calls for replacement of 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping, cuts in water use by golf courses and other large landscapes, water conservation pricing and permanent monthly reporting by local water agencies of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions, and incentives for new technology to make the state more water efficient.
The governor’s order is drawing fire from critics because it doesn’t include mandatory cutbacks for agriculture, which uses the vast majority of the state’s water supply.
Brown has noted that some California farmers have already been denied irrigation water from federal surface supplies.
According to a news release from Brown’s office, “Agricultural water users — which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off — will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order.”
“They delivered too much water in prior years to the agricultural customers,” responds Tom Stokely, water policy coordinator for the California Water Impact Network.
“Certainly there needed to be a drought declaration, and there are some good things in it,” Stokely said. “The glaring omission is there are no mandatory cutbacks for agriculture or any restrictions on the planting of new, permanent crops such as almonds, pistachios, grapes.”
Almonds, the majority of which are sold overseas, use more water than all indoor usage in California, Stokely said, adding that annual crops make more sense in areas without a reliable water supply.
Stokely said growing almonds is particularly a problem in areas south of the Delta where the trees require twice as much irrigation water as those in Chico, for example, which has cooler temperatures and more rainfall and groundwater.
The low Trinity Reservoir, coupled with higher temperatures, will make it difficult to release water to the Trinity River that is cool enough for fish, Stokely said.
Stokely said the situation would not be so bad if a minimum pool had been kept in Trinity Lake of 900,000 acre-feet as C-WIN has recommended.