Dry year spurs new conservation orders for 2014 

click to enlarge Californians are being asked to water their lawns less, plant native shrubs and install more-efficient irrigation systems to stave off water shortages and mandatory rationing amid growing worries about a possible long-term drought. - RICH PEDRONCELLI/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Rich Pedroncelli/AP file photo
  • Californians are being asked to water their lawns less, plant native shrubs and install more-efficient irrigation systems to stave off water shortages and mandatory rationing amid growing worries about a possible long-term drought.

December has been one of the driest months in one of the driest years ever recorded in California, which is spurring some cities and counties in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region to issue water conservation orders earlier than usual.

The city of Folsom on Monday imposed a mandatory 20-percent water conservation order, while Sacramento County has also asked residents in unincorporated areas to reduce water use by 20 percent.

The cities of Roseville and Sacramento are also likely to consider similar measures in early January, according to the Sacramento Bee (http://bit.ly/JCzjwZ).

If no rain falls in the remaining days of 2013, it could rank as the driest calendar year in state history. The northern Sierra Nevada, an area where snowpack is key to the state's water picture, has received only 10 percent of its average snowfall this month

While a drought has not been declared by Gov. Jerry Brown, he has assembled a task force to monitor and advise him on the issue.

It would take a series of big storms in 2014 to reduce the threat, leading most water experts to believe a drought declaration imminent.

"Even if we pick up with normal weather conditions in January, soil moisture is so low that runoff will be low because the soil will just suck up a lot of that precipitation," Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager at the state Department of Water Resources, told the Bee.

The issue of low water supply in reservoirs is not only bad news for people, but for fish too.

Folsom Lake dropped below 20 percent of its capacity last week, an historic low.

That means the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is planning to reduce water releases from the dam into the American River, which could kill Chinook salmon eggs if the river's levels drop too low.

"From a fishery perspective, it's a really tough balancing act," Tom Gohring, executive director of coalition of local water agencies and environmental groups called Water Forum in Sacramento. "It's not a stretch to say people are on alert."

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