Gov. Jerry Brown recently lifted his emergency drought declaration for all of California except four counties: Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne.
These counties tend to rely on groundwater, which takes longer to recharge after a drought than surface water. But that’s not really what keeping the emergency declaration in place is about.
“It’s about the number of communities that have been grappling with severe water shortages,” says Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager for the State Water Resources Control Board.
He says communities and water systems in these four counties were among the hardest-hit by the drought, and when wells went dry and people were left without water, the emergency declaration made possible state funding for relief efforts.
Tulare County’s deputy administrator, Eric Coyne, says that funding has been crucial.
“We couldn’t do it without the state,” he says. Since the emergency was announced in 2014, Coyne says, Tulare County has received more than $170 million in state and federal funds for ongoing relief projects.
Some are short-term measures like mobile showers, water tanks placed in people’s front yards and well deepening.
Others are permanent fixes. In the case of East Porterville, where around 1,800 home wells went dry or were contaminated, according to Coyne, there’s a major project underway to connect these homes to the city water system.
“We want to make sure we see those projects through to reduce vulnerability to future droughts,” Gomberg says, “and we can’t complete these projects without having a continued declaration.”
So the emergency declaration will stay in place until the projects are done, Gomberg says. He expects that will take another year or two.