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Water & Drought

Fresno County leaders declare local drought emergency. One says drought is ‘man-made’


The Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a resolution proclaiming a local drought emergency.

The vote on the resolution during Tuesday’s special meeting was unanimous. The resolution comes after Fresno leaders joined officials from three other Central Valley counties on Friday to declare a regional drought emergency and urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to do the same statewide.

Fresno County Chairman Steve Brandau said the drought “is a crisis that we are putting upon ourselves.” He said he’s not a water expert, but it has been “painful” for him to watch “as water flows out into the ocean unused for human resources.”

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“We are sending fresh water into the ocean, and now, we are going to go to the same ocean and pull water out and remove the salt out of it to make it fresh water again. Some of this stuff is ludicrous to me,” he said. “I still believe that even though we are having a difficult time in a lack-of-water-year, in many ways, the drought is man-made.”

California is at 50% of its average precipitation for the year, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The state’s snowpack is at 59% of normal for the year, putting 2021 on pace to be one of the driest on record for the state.

Supervisor Nathan Magsig said California could face an energy crisis, simultaneously, with a water crisis.

“As you know, a lot of our power comes in the form of hydroelectric power, and with the temperatures heating up earlier... we may see multiple challenges again this year,” he said.

This year’s fire-season could be worse than in 2020, he said.

Southern California Edison has dams and hydroelectric facilities in eastern Fresno County, Magsig said. Fresno County needs to “seriously” think about building more facilities to store water and generate power as they bring multiple benefits.

“There are opportunities for us to be proactive as we deal with the challenges that the state faces,” he said. “That’s the only way we are going to continue to allow for future generations to live here, for us to be able to farm into the future, as well.”

Supervisor Brian Pacheco said he hopes the message from the regional and local declarations will make its way to Sacramento, so lawmakers can “take some action to help all of the agriculturalists and disadvantaged communities that we have throughout the Valley.”

Supervisor Buddy Mendes said officials are going through “back-channel sources” to try to find out what’s preventing Newsom from declaring a statewide drought emergency.

“There are some senior water-right holders in the state that don’t want him to,” Mendes said.

People don’t want the California State Water Resources Control Board to get involved, Mendes said.

“A lot of people are afraid of their draconian measures they can actually do,” he said. “One is to take water away from some senior water-right holders.”

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