Far West Drought Situation Appears Dire

California Gov. Jerry Brown asks for disaster declaration; USDA Secretary Vilsack says the agency will work with farmers and ranchers on water efficiency

Published on: Jan 20, 2014

The worsening dryness in the Far West has grabbed the attention of federal agencies as the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture and Commerce on Friday pledged to support California's call for assistance to drought-ravaged areas of the state.

The support came just hours after California Gov. Edmund (Jerry) Brown proclaimed a state of emergency, directing state officials to take necessary actions in preparing for prolonged drought.

"We can't make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California's drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas," Brown said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown asks for disaster declaration; USDA Secretary Vilsack says the agency will work with farmers and ranchers on water efficiency
California Gov. Jerry Brown asks for disaster declaration; USDA Secretary Vilsack says the agency will work with farmers and ranchers on water efficiency

"I've declared this emergency and I'm calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible."

Related: Limited Water Supply Expected in the West

In the State of Emergency declaration, Governor Brown directed state officials to assist farmers and communities that are economically impacted by dry conditions and to ensure the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages.

The Governor also directed state agencies to use less water and hire more firefighters and initiated a greatly expanded water conservation public awareness campaign.

In addition, the proclamation gives state water officials more flexibility to manage supply throughout California under drought conditions.

State water officials say that California's river and reservoirs are below their record lows. Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack's statewide water content at about 20% of normal average for this time of year.

Drought persists in the region

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center, early indications are it will be very dry in the Far West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry.

NRCS Meteorologist Jan Curtis said there is a very small chance for normal precipitation on the West Coast.

"The North Cascades in Washington might have a normal year, but Oregon and California are unlikely to have normal precipitation," Curtis said on Wednesday.

However, NRCS Oregon lead Snow Surveyor Melissa Webb said there isn't yet reason for alarm in Oregon.

"Oregon snowpack looks grim right now, but the season is young and storms are on the horizon," Webb said. "While concerned, we're hopeful for some recovery in the next couple of months."

Preparedness is key

The Governor's drought State of Emergency follows a series of actions the administration has taken to ensure that California is prepared for record dry conditions.

In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water and water rights.

In December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations, California's preparedness for water scarcity and whether conditions merit a drought declaration.

Related: Western U.S. Falls Deeper Into Drought

USDA has already declared 27 counties in California and areas in 10 other states as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. This designation makes farmers and ranchers in those areas eligible for assistance through a number of USDA programs.

USDA is also working with farmers and ranchers to increase their irrigation water efficiency, protect vulnerable soils from erosion, and improve the health of pasture and range lands, an agency statement said Friday.

"Today’s drought declaration also serves as a reminder of the long-term need to take a comprehensive approach to tackling California’s water problems," Agriculture, Interior and Commerce Secretaries Tom Vilsack, Sally Jewell and Penny Pritzker said in a joint statement. "We remain committed to working with the state to provide for the sustainable management of its precious water resources."

Far West Drought Situation Appears Dire

Image: U.S. Drought Monitor
 

Read more:
Western U.S. Falls Deeper Into Drought
Drought Focused On West
Nationwide Drought Improves Over 2013; West Still Suffers
Far West Drought Situation Appears Dire
Drought Persists in California, Texas Panhandle