California Drought Plan Is a Roadmap for a Perilous Year

11 Apr, 2014 - By

California Drought Plan Is a Roadmap for a Perilous Year

State officials also said that rock barriers to help funnel salt water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will not be immediately necessary. Instead, the Department of Water Resources will request that salinity standards be loosened in parts of the delta.

State and federal officials acknowledged Wednesday the extraordinary circumstances California faces as they unveiled a drought plan that will guide the state’s water management decisions through November.

The plan, which will be updated monthly as new weather and water data arrives, sets four priorities that will help the nation’s most populous state endure a historic drought:

Ensure reservoirs hold enough supplies in 2014 and 2015 to provide water for drinking, sanitary uses, and firefighting.
Prevent salt water from fouling the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, from which 25 million Californians get water for drinking and irrigation.
Reserve enough cold water in Shasta Lake to keep salmon populations from dying late in the summer in warm, shallow rivers.
Uphold state and federal protections for endangered species, but identify regulations that could be modified in order to benefit one of the other priorities.
In effect, the six water and wildlife management agencies that negotiated the plan must become master jugglers. The plan has near-term and longer-term milestones that will help set a clear organizational path.

Near-term actions will take place in April and May, and they include finalizing both the river runoff forecast and water allocations from state and federal canals, determining whether temporary dams to block salt water will be necessary in the delta, and coordinating water deliveries to preserve a pool of cold water in key reservoirs.

The long view extends through the summer and into November. By then, the hottest part of the year, managers will be looking at emergency decisions to control salinity and to prevent fisheries from collapsing.

Above all, managers are keeping an eye on the calendar. In case sunny skies persist next year, they will hold back enough water to meet the plan’s four objectives in 2015.

“We must plan for a very dry 2014 and prepare for a potentially dry 2015,” said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources. “That means we need to continue to use every drop of water wisely and probably with more consideration than we ever have before.”

An exercise in crisis management, the plan does not propose legal changes or new investments. Those discussions are occurring elsewhere, as Governor Jerry Brown is pushing for better groundwater stewardship and state lawmakers are working on a multibillion-dollar water bond to send to the voters in November.

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