Central Valley Lawmakers Declare Local Drought Emergencies, Ask Governor Newsom for Help


Local lawmakers from all over the Central Valley gathered Friday to announce Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare Counties are now declaring drought emergencies.

Leaders from those counties have been pleading with Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency, but so far, he’s only done so for two counties in Wine Country: Mendocino and Sonoma.

On April 7th, a bipartisan group of representatives from all eight Central Valley counties sent the Governor a letter asking him to issue a statewide declaration o emergency due to the drought.

State Senator Andreas Borgeas, who represents the Central Valley and serves as Chairman of the Agricultural Committee, has been leading that push.

“While the Governor publicly stated he is disinclined – so far – to issue a statewide emergency, the prevailing science and data demonstrate the urgency of this very moment,” said Senator Borgeas.

Governor Newsom’s office told FOX26 News conditions in California do not warrant an emergency declaration across the entire state.

We recognize the level of concern in the Central Valley, and we continue to target efforts, policies and investments there including to improve drinking water and long-term water security.

California and the Central Valley is better off today due to lessons learned from the last drought including: improved conservation measures to reduce demand, early cross coordination between agencies, development of water use efficiency standards, implantation of SGMA, a risk assessment and consolidation of small water systems, and the passage of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act.

Assemblymember Jim Patterson, who represents California’s 23rd District, put things thusly: “We are in an emergency, whether the Governor wants to recognize it or not.”

At a news conference Friday, Larry Starr, a Kern County farmer who says his family has been working the fields for over 100 years, spoke out.

“Water has become the most difficult challenge for our farm. It is our primary focus, our biggest cost, and is the key to our future,” said Starr. “In the past 10 years, we have idled thousands of acres due to lack of water being delivered to our farm. This year – this very year, right now, we’re trying to sell thousands more to be able to survive. But I don’t see how we will survive if nothing changes.”

He preceded several lawmakers who have been urging the Governor to take action. Amy Shuklian, the Chairman of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, was among them.

“Local conditions are likely to worsen and become an emergency that endangers not only public health and safety but also our ag-driven economy, not only in Tulare County, but all of the Central Valley.

State Senator Melissa Hurtado compared what we’re facing now to the drought in 1974-1977. That three-year-period was the driest on record and led to a global food crisis.

“The Central Valley feeds the world. This is not just about the Central Valley this is about mankind,” said Senator Hurtado.

Assemblymember Devon Mathis, who represents Tulare County, asked the Governor to work with local lawmakers.

“We know what a drought does to our communities, we know what it does to our food supplies. A lot of us have seen it, we’ve grown up with them. We are still recovering from the last drought. My hometown of Porterville, the city without water, is still recovering today. We have places in the Central Valley with third-world conditions due to water currently. This drought is only going to impact these communities further. The pandemic has only made things worse. This state of emergency that the Governor needs to call now is going to help us expedite, move things, and get help to the communities in need of help.”

Governor Newsom’s office says a statewide drought order would not result in more water for communities or businesses, and that the two counties where a drought emergency has been implemented are facing unique situations.

In the Russian River, the situation is so acute because it relies on a single, rain-fed watershed that is seeing historically dry conditions for a second year. They are not connected to any other water systems, and so have no other water to bring in. Public health and safety impacts are imminent, hence the need to invoke emergency authorities so Water Board can act to curtail diversions if not done voluntarily by vineyards, growers, etc.

The Central Valley relies on multiple surface water projects (state, federal and local) plus groundwater. We are not seeing the same kind of imminent public health and safety impacts broadly across the valley, although there are some communities and small water systems we are watching and will be ready to assist as needed without any additional authorities. Emergency authority or waiving water quality standards in the Delta would not allow the SWP to deliver more water to the valley. We have to leave water in Oroville to forestall crisis if next year is dry.