The Kern County Board of Supervisors are preparing to declare a state of emergency due to drought, which could put pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to do the same statewide.
For weeks, pressure has grown across the Central Valley for a statewide drought emergency declaration. Last week, Supervisor Phillip Peters joined officials from seven other Central Valley counties urging the governor to issue an emergency drought declaration, which would give state agencies special powers to address the weather conditions and launch a public awareness campaign.
Kern’s state lawmakers have also joined other legislators in calling on the governor to grant emergency powers to address the drought.
However, state officials have so far pushed back against the requests, saying the state is only in the first or second year of a drought whereas in 2014 — the last year an emergency drought declaration was issued — the state was in the third dry year.
In early April, an official with the state Department of Water Resources told The Californian cities and counties usually declare drought emergencies first, which is then followed up by state action.
Supervisors appear to be prepared to take the initiative. Peters asked the County Administrative Office to prepare a local drought emergency declaration by May 11.
“I think it would bring some relief to our ag industry here and also present us with a few different options as far as contending with the drought here at the local level,” he said of a statewide drought emergency.
A Kern County spokeswoman declined to explain the potential impact of a local drought emergency declaration. In 2014, the county’s resolution merely asked the governor to immediately declare a statewide drought emergency.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, almost 50 percent of California is in “extreme drought,” meaning water supply is inadequate for agriculture, wildlife and urban needs.
The governor has declared a drought emergency in two counties, Mendocino and Sonoma.
For Kern County farmers, the next few months promises to be especially painful. The State Water Project has cut water allocations to 5 percent, a figure only seen since 2014, and the third lowest ever.
“Think about that. If your boss came to you and said we’re only going to pay you 5 percent of your salary, but you still need to pay all of your bills, that would be devastating,” said Brent Walthall, assistant general manager of the Kern County Water Agency.
He noted that farmers would likely need to draw from water banks to meet their needs, and the situation would likely remain the same throughout the summer.
“It’s dry and it’s going to stay dry,” Walthall said.
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.
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