Thirsty, and Getting Thirstier

It was 103 degrees fahrenheit here in Sebastopol yesterday, so it’s no surprise that my mind got to thoughts of water. Back in June, Governor Schwarzenneger declared that California is officially in a drought.

The declaration comes after the driest California spring in 88 years, with runoff in river basins that feed most reservoirs at 41 percent of average levels. It stops short of a water emergency, which would probably include mandatory rationing.

Efforts to capture water have also been hampered by evaporation of some mountain snowpacks that provide water, an effect, state officials say, of global climate change.

A survey this year found that the state’s snowpack water content was 67 percent of average, and the Colorado River Basin, from which California draws some water, is coming off a record eight-year drought, contributing to the drop in reservoir storage.

A look at the U.S. drought monitor shows that a few other areas of the country are suffering worse drought conditions, but the entire state of California-by far the nation’s largest agricultural producer and populous state-is in either moderate or severe drought.

And the forecast looks bleak. So what are we doing about it?

State and local officials have put forward various initiatives–most voluntary–to encourage residents to cut down on water use. Not so much when it comes to agricultural water use, which is by far the largest consumer.

A bill to require Californians to cut water use 20 percent recently passed the Assembly. The bill, which requires Senate approval, puts most of the onus on residents, and little on the agriculture industry, underscoring tension over conservation between city dwellers and farmers, who consume most of the state’s water.

Some communities, like Folsom (near Sacramento), have found that residents have been slow to respond to voluntary measures and so are enacting mandatory policies.

Folsom on Wednesday ordered the Sacramento region’s toughest water conservation yet to deal with a worsening drought: mandatory rules to cut water use by 20 percent.

The measures are the most drastic Folsom has adopted since at least the last statewide drought, in the early 1990s, and perhaps even longer. And they reflect a growing sense that the drought now gripping California will get much worse before it eases.

Folsom has about 19,500 customers and is entirely dependent on water stored in Folsom Lake. On July 25, city officials learned that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would cut deliveries from the shrinking lake by 25 percent.

And since Folsom water customers did not respond well to calls this summer for voluntary conservation, "we clearly need to step it up" with mandatory action, City Manager Kerry Miller said.

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