U.S. Water News Online
GRANITE BAY, Calif. -- Bony tree branches poke out of
Folsom Lake now, skeletons from the forest that drowned when Folsom
Dam was built east of Sacramento a half-century ago.
Hundreds of yards of dry lake bottom lie beyond the concrete boat
ramps and asphalt parking lots, miring Annette Poole and Jessie Baker
of Antelope axle-deep in sand recently as they dragged Poole's
18-foot outboard from the water.
``It's not as big a lake as it used to be,'' said Scott Deitzel of
Citrus Heights as he pulled his 24-foot inboard up a makeshift ramp.
``There's a lot of new islands now.''
State and local water officials aren't panicking. Not yet.
But they're launching a new drought-preparedness Web site this
month and a series of workshops this fall just in case this winter is
as dry as last.
Another dry winter could presage a drought that could have
far-reaching consequences for the state's rapid development and the
lush irrigated farmland that sends fruits and vegetables across the
``We've had six good years, six wet-to-average years in a row, so
we haven't had to worry in a while,'' said Jeanine Jones, drought
preparedness manager for the Department of Water Resources.
Things have changed for the worse since California's last drought,
which ran six years from 1987 to 1992 and forced half the state's
counties to declare drought emergencies.
The state has added more than 6 million people, and it's
negotiating with other states to cut its overuse of Colorado River
water. And environmental concerns have moved to the forefront to
protect San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta,
and five fish species that have been declared endangered since the
last dry spell.
``I guess it's too many people, not enough water and
electricity,'' said Mike Arcuri of Roseville, pointing across drying
Folsom Lake. ``I grew up water skiing out there, and it was never
Though statewide precipitation wasn't much below average last
winter, an early snowmelt and unusually hot spring drew reservoir
levels down early, said Pierre Stevens, the state's lead water supply
Some relatively small coastal reservoirs actually are above
average, Stevens said, but the large inland storage lakes are
substantially below average.
``The reservoir levels were dropping in early summer when they
normally would have been rising,'' he said. ``Coming off a string of
wet years before that, that's what people are remembering. So it's
not that unusual. The big concern is what happens if it's another dry
The state is planning five workshops in October and November for
large water agencies that could be hit hard by a drought, and six
seminars during the same period for rural homeowners who could see
their private wells dry up during a prolonged dry spell.
Rural residents who depend on well water, dryland ranchers and
isolated North Coast and Sierra foothill communities are the first
likely to be hit, according to a DWR report last year titled:
``Preparing for California's Next Drought.''
Residents generally respond by hauling water and drilling new
wells, further draining the water table. During the last drought's
peak, 25,000 new wells were drilled each year, up from fewer than
15,000 in non-drought years.
The worst economic damage would likely affect the western San
Joaquin Valley, where dry conditions are exacerbated by federal water
restrictions, the report predicted.
Already this year, many San Joaquin fields have been left
unplanted. Yet the water-restricted areas of the valley are where
much of the growth has occurred in orchards and vineyards that need
water in good and bad years.
The DWR already is considering whether it would operate a water
purchasing program -- buying water from those who have it and
distributing it to those who need it -- as it did during the last
drought. Yet, nearly a third of California's counties have since
restricted water exports in an effort to save the increasingly scarce
resource for their own needs.
Falling lake levels and farmers' confrontation with federal
authorities over water in the Klamath Basin have rekindled the debate
over California's water supply, as some warn a water shortage could
soon dwarf this year's energy crisis.
Sen. Maurice Johannessen, R-Redding, called the Klamath conflict
along the California-Oregon border ``the canary in the mine'' that
keeled over to warn of what he fears will be ``a major water
The state has constructed no major reservoirs in more than 30
years, and a report last week by a Senate select committee chaired by
Johannessen warned that the state isn't building new storage fast
It is far more politically and environmentally feasible to enlarge
existing reservoirs than to build new ones, said Robert Stackhouse,
manager of the Central Valley Project Water Association, serving 3
million acres and several communities.
Plans are underway to raise dams at Lake Shasta near Redding in
Northern California, Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River near
Fresno, the Los Vaqueros Reservoir near Livermore, and to build a new
Sites Reservoir near Williams. But those projects are five to seven
years from construction.
In addition, there are efforts to bank water underground, which
brings less environmental damage but takes more energy to store and
``We wish we had more reservoirs, given the environmental needs
and growing water needs throughout the state,'' said California Farm
Bureau spokesman David Kranz. ``Even full reservoir levels don't
necessarily equate to full water supplies for farmers as they used
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