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Newsom Rejects Valley Lawmakers’ Request for Statewide Water Emergency Declaration



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With California in drought conditions amid the third-driest precipitation totals in state history, Valley lawmakers want Gov. Gavin Newsom to take immediate action.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group asked Newsom to declare a statewide water emergency. The governor’s office responded by saying Newsom will take action “if it becomes necessary.”

“This bipartisan request from Valley legislators demonstrates the dire need for the Governor’s administration to take action and deliver more water to farms and rural communities.” — State Sen. Andreas Borgeas

The group cited a 5% water allocation for farmers announced March 23 by the state Department of Water Resources — down from the 10% announced in December — among the reasons for the request.

The water content of California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack was measured at 59% of the April 1 average, when it historically is at its peak. Climate scientists are calling what’s happening in California and other western states a continuation of a “megadrought” that started in 1999.

“As Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have repeatedly stressed how water and food security is a key component of our national security,” said state Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno). “This bipartisan request from Valley legislators demonstrates the dire need for the Governor’s administration to take action and deliver more water to farms and rural communities.”

Ag Financial Aid Program Sought

Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) and nine other lawmakers joined Borgeas in seeking the emergency declaration. The lawmakers also want Newsom to:

  • give state agencies the flexibility to increase water allocations;
  • allow Valley lawmakers to meet with DWR officials;
  • create a financial assistance program for farmers from the state’s budget surplus.

The lawmakers pointed out that in 2014, when DWR cut the allocation from the State Water Project to 5%, then-Gov. Jerry Brown “declared a state of emergency in order to provide flexibility and commonsense streamlining to utilize our limited water in the most efficient way possible.”

Governor’s Office Says Newsom Already Is Addressing the Drought

“The state is experiencing drought conditions. Unfortunately, after two dry years, the precipitation and snowpack is well below average, resulting in the need for all Californians to conserve and use water more wisely,” said Erin Mellon, the governor’s spokesperson.

“Drought is a recurring feature of the California climate, and we know from experience that early action improves response. We are in a better place today because of what we have learned from the most recent drought. The Administration is already taking steps to address emerging dry year impacts, and to prepare for additional efforts if dry conditions continue or worsen. The state has met with legislators and stakeholders on this issue many times, and will continue to do so as we monitor the conditions closely. We stand ready to take additional actions if it becomes necessary.”

Drought Brings Lost Jobs and Revenue

The lawmakers also said heavy losses of agricultural revenue and jobs in Valley communities because of the drought should compel the governor to act.

“Approximately 1 million acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland is expected to be fallowed over two to three decades because of reduced ground and surface water availability,” the letter states. “California is also expected to shed approximately 85,000 jobs as a direct result of reduced water access — not including indirect job loss from supporting industries.

“By providing agencies more flexibility under a state of emergency order, state agencies and stakeholders can work together to adapt to this challenging, but temporary, situation. All tools should be available to incentivize water conservation, minimizing red tape for water transfers, and allowing state agencies to modify certain reservoir release standards to allow for more water to go to communities throughout the state.”

The other signers of the letter were Sens. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) and Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) and Assemblymembers Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield), Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals), Heath Flora (R-Ripon), Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), and Adam Gray (D-Merced).

Four Valley Democrats didn’t sign the letter: Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula of Fresno, and Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua of Stockton.

Read the Letter

You can read the letter at this link.


Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email