California Governor Declares Drought State of Emergency: Declaration Calls on Water Districts and Cities to Implement Water Shortage Contingency Plans


Governor Jerry Brown last week issued a drought state of emergency declaration in response to record-low water levels in California’s rivers and reservoirs as well as an abnormally low snowpack. The declaration, issued Friday, puts into motion a variety of important policy and procedural directives that are key to implementing California’s management of the driest year the state has seen since the keeping of records began in the 19th century.

The declaration calls on public agencies that manage or deliver water to implement a variety of measures. It also exempts the state from compliance with aspects of water quality plans and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s primary environmental protection law, when undertaking certain actions necessary to make water immediately available during the drought.

In the declaration, the governor:

  • Calls upon local urban water suppliers and municipalities to immediately implement local water shortage contingency plans and update urban and agricultural water management plans.
  • Requires the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to undertake a statewide water conservation program to encourage Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent.
  • Directs the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) to expedite the processing of water transfers to enable the efficient use of water.
  • Instructs DWR and the Water Board to accelerate funding for water supply enhancement projects that are capable of breaking ground this year.
  • Directs the Water Board to place State water right holders on notice that they may be required to cease or reduce water diversions.
  • Requires DWR to evaluate changing groundwater levels, land subsidence and agricultural land fallowing as the drought persists and to provide a public update by April 30, 2014, to identify groundwater basins with water shortages.
  • Directs the California Department of Food and Agriculture to connect farmers to state and federal programs for assistance during the drought.  
  • Requires the Governor’s Drought Task Force to develop a plan to provide emergency food, financial assistance and unemployment services in communities expected to suffer high levels of unemployment as a result of the drought.

With respect to CEQA, the governor has suspended the law from applying to the Water Board’s approval of petitions requesting water transfers and exchanges between users within the State Water Project and Federal Central Valley Project. The declaration also suspends CEQA from applying to Water Board decisions to modify reservoir releases requirements or diversion limitations that were established to implement a water quality control plan.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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