Gov. Brown orders more actions on California drought

Gov. Brown orders more actions on California drought

25 April 2014

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USA — Gov. Jerry Brown issued a second executive order on Friday to deal with California’s drought, taking additional steps to help fight wildfires and assist cities and farmers.

“The driest months are still to come in California and extreme drought conditions will get worse,” Brown said.

He said the order “cuts red tape to help get water to farmers more quickly, ensure communities have safe drinking water, protect vulnerable species and prepare for an extreme fire season.”

The order streamlines contracting rules for purchasing firefighting equipment and allows property owners to quickly clear brush and dying trees from their land.

It also directs state water regulators to accelerate approvals of voluntary water transfers to assist farmers and orders wildlife officials to take steps to help winter-run Chinook salmon and other fish survive the drought.

Brown also called on residents and businesses to conserve water and prohibited homeowner associations from fining residents who limit their lawn watering and take other conservation measures.

The state has already seen a significant increase in wildfires this year, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Since Jan. 1, firefighters have responded to 1,040 wildfires, compared to about 425 in an average year.

Limited late rainfall has done little to combat the dry conditions that will feed wildfires, he said.

“The drought has definitely set the stage for a potentially dangerous and busy fire season,” Berlant said. “We’ve increased our staffing much earlier with the potential of a lot more wildfires with just how dry it is.”

He urged homeowners to do their part by preparing for the wildfire season much earlier, such as clearing brush within 100 feet of homes.

Brown’s order also sidesteps the California Environmental Quality Act through year’s end on some actions intended to limit environmental damage. They include speeding water transfers, restricting water use, and aiding both fish and humans imperiled by the drought through low water or higher fire danger.

Brown issued his first drought-related executive order in January, before a series of storms began providing some relief.

In February, for instance, public health officials warned that 17 mostly rural water systems had less than two months water supply in storage. Now just three water systems are listed.

Resources Agency spokesman Richard Stapler said the additional executive order was needed for some specific steps including speeding the installation of fish screens on water intakes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, fish habitat improvement projects and permitting water districts to restrict outdoor watering.

The new order is designed “to make sure we’re addressing everything we possibly can,” said Stapler, who commented on behalf of Brown’s administration. “There are a lot of different pieces of this that we need to continue to address.”

He said it is too soon to know if more executive actions will be needed.

The executive order came in the midst of a late-spring storm that was bringing rain or snow to most of the state.

“It’s one of those things,” Stapler said of the governor’s timing of his executive order. “It is nice to get a little bit of rain,” though he said it would do little to alleviate the dry conditions expected this summer.

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