Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

California Governor Declares End To Drought Emergency

Fourth-generation rice farmer Josh Sheppard walks across the dried-up ditch at his rice farm in Richvale, Calif., May 1, 2014.
Associated Press
Fourth-generation rice farmer Josh Sheppard walks across the dried-up ditch at his rice farm in Richvale, Calif., May 1, 2014.
California Governor Declares End To Drought Emergency
California Governor Declares End To Drought Emergency GUEST: Matt O'Malley, executive director, San Diego Coastkeeper

The trial is over Governor Jerry Brown made it official on Friday lifting a four-year-old drought emergency in all but a few California counties. That's after an unusually wet winter helped revive plant life across the state. Other restrictions on water use like when you Spengler's after it has rained will stay in place joining me with more is Matt O'Malley executive director for San Diego Coast keeper. Welcome to the program. Thank you. Governor Brown ended the emergency pretty much everywhere but he also said that the next drought could be right around the corner and that conservation must remain a way of life. What is your take on the Governor's position? I think it is consistent with what we have been saying for years that we are trying to build this conservation ethic throughout the state. It really took the drought is sort of kicked the state as a whole and the Governor's office into that way of thinking including the state water board. It seems like plans with the declaration of the end of the drought for most of the state I think that makes sense with the wet weather we have had. I think on top of that we have had to keep in mind that we are not out of this there are still groundwater basins that have been overdrafted that take a long time to recharge and there are parts of the state that are still really impacted. I think declaring the drought over makes sense especially in light of the report that came out making conservation away of light -- life which will help us to be prepared for more frequent and sustained droughts. We have to be ready for this in San Diego by conserving significantly and focusing on lessening demand it will really allow us to move forward in a responsible way. Most of the states strictest conservation roles were lifted last year. Tell us what is the new executive order actually do? What stays in place and what is gone Rex --? Like prohibition of wasteful practices hosing down sidewalks and watering month after it rained those will stay and I think most everybody can agree that they should. Before that water agencies were not required to report used by per capita. Once you have information you can determine how to go ahead and conserve. By collecting that data and having it up right and allowing all stakeholders to know what is going on throughout the state we can say okay where can we make strides to improve that. Really in the long-term what this does is sets up long-term use targets throughout the state. Urban suppliers will basically be working with agencies to calculate water use goals. Has flexibility so depending on where in the state you are it will allow some people to sort of keep their focus on indoor water use or outdoor water use or water system losses like weeks that it will come to a point where we are achieving meaningful conservation statewide. There's rulemaking that has to come from here. Some of it exists with the government and some is not so it needs to be tightened up. There's different drought risk assessments and whether the sustained droughts and more frequent doubts that we expect. It's a fairly comprehensive look and there are some things that we need to focus on and shore up. This really shows that the state is looking longer-term and I think it is a good way forward. With the drought emergency officially been declared over do you expect to see excessive water use here in San Diego go on the rise? When we look at the past droughts weeks have seen water use go up. I hope that does not happen. Here in San Diego we can significantly reduce our water use in some places up to 30%. We are really not suffering consequences for our way of life. People are less over irrigating which is washing pollutants after the coast. I think we can continue and this framework is setting us up for success. We will continue our message only hope that the water agencies will continue the message that conservation is essential to moving forward in a sustainable way. California does not have an official statewide definition for what a drought means. That is sort of a to what the governor's discretion. Do you view that as a problem? Drought can be declared in many different ways. It's either lack of irrigation it could be lack of water supply availability so I think having some discretion does make sense. You have certain parts of the state that are still suffering pretty severely and others that sort of have quite a bit of water supply to move forward. There has to be some consideration and we may want to come to some sort of agreeable -- the declared doubt in the region they had adequate water supply and they have applauded the governor's decision to lift the emergency. How important is it to encourage conservation? I think taking more money investing in things where we can reduce outdoor landscaping to drought tolerance I think that will really be essential and long-term and it would encourage all agencies to really go down that track and look at the demand side and how we can listen a considerably. And they are not necessarily reliant on water use to meet the bottom line. That has been going on for years. What sorts of long-term -- One of the thing that this water conservation is unclear on is whether this recycled water will be subject to conservation efficiency targets. Otherwise it sends the message that not all water is precious there is other technology the California will start leading whether it is in your efficiencies and first and foremost the most important thing. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to the state's drought emergency on Friday after powerful storms quenched the state following four extraordinarily dry years that drained reservoirs and wells, devastated forests and farmland and forced millions of people to slash their water use.

The turnaround has been stark. After years of brown fields and cracked earth, monster storms blanketed California's Sierra Nevada Mountains this winter with deep snow that flows into the network of rivers and streams that supply much of the state's water.

Front lawns revived to bright green in neighborhoods throughout the state and rivers that had become dry beds of sand and gravel are now charged with water swelling up in their banks.

RELATED: San Diego Water Officials Declare Drought Over

Still, lifting the order is a largely symbolic measure that doesn't remove most of the restrictions. Officials insisted they're holding onto some conservation rules for the 40 million residents of the nation's most populous state.

California uses more water each year than nature makes available, and one wet winter won't change the long-term outlook, environmentalists cautioned.

"Water may appear to be in abundance right now," said Kate Poole, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But even after this unusually wet season, there won't be enough water to satisfy all the demands of agriculture, business and cities, without draining our rivers and groundwater basins below sustainable levels."

At the drought's peak, citizens were urged to cut shower times and outdoor watering. Homeowners let lawns turn brown or ripped them out altogether and replaced them with desert-like landscaping.

The drought strained native fish that migrate up rivers, killed more than 100 million trees, and forced farmers in the nation's leading agricultural state to rely heavily on groundwater, causing the ground to sink. Some growers tore out orchards.

Brown declared the emergency in 2014, and officials later ordered mandatory conservation for the first time in state history.

Even now, the governor has kept the drought emergency in place for four counties, most of them at the state's farming heartland, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies.

More than 900 families mostly in Tulare County, a farming powerhouse in the San Joaquin Valley, are struggling even to find drinking water after their wells dried up and have to turn to charities for bottled water or tanks for their yards.

In the inland region of Southern California east of Los Angeles, streams and groundwater basins are still at historically low levels, and rainfall has been below average for nearly two decades. It would take the equivalent of three consecutive years of above-average precipitation to refill the basins.

RELATED: KPBS Drought Tracker

The rest of the state shouldn't forget water-saving strategies either. Cities and water districts throughout the state will be required to continue reporting their water use each month, said the governor's order, which also bans wasteful practices, such as hosing off sidewalks and running sprinklers when it rains.

Water conservation will become a way of life in the state, said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, who led conservation planning.

"This drought has been one for the record books, but it won't be our last or longest," said Marcus. "It's a wakeup call and we can't hit the snooze button."

Even Brown was circumspect in his dramatic announcement: "This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner."