The Hoopa Valley Tribe has declared a drought emergency as thousands of Californians face threatened drinking water supplies from the worst dry spell in decades, if not centuries.
The Trinity River, which flows through the heart of Hoopa territory, is lower than in the past 50 years of recordkeeping, according to the Two Rivers Tribune.
“We’re setting a new record, and it’s not a good one,” said fisheries hydrologist Robert Franklin in an emergency meeting with department leaders from the tribe on January 27, the Two Rivers Tribune reported, adding that for the time of year, “the flows are the lowest anyone alive has seen.”
With Trinity Lake only half full as well, authorities are worried about temperature increases that could promote bacteria growth. This could hurt migrating fish and pose problems for both drinking and recreational use, Ted Oldenburg of the tribe’s Environmental Protection Agency told the newspaper.
Statewide, alarm is rising as well. The Hoopa declaration came soon after Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency.
“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, to The New York Times.
The Times reported on February 1 that “17 rural communities providing water to 40,000 people are in danger of running out within 60 to 120 days.” Moreover, the water supply of 25 million more people will be squeezed because the State Water Project, which for 54 years has supplemented small municipal water supplies, has announced that it will stop doing so in spring so as to conserve its stores, the Associated Press reported.
The latest snow survey of the Sierra, conducted on January 30, found just 12 percent of the usual average snow pack for this date, the California Department of Water Resources said in a statement. Moreover, it’s only seven percent of what should be there by the April 1 peak in order for the spring melt to supply about a third of the state’s water via streams and reservoirs, the agency said. This, combined with the state’s already low reservoirs, ensures a third straight year of drought, the water resources department said.
“I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high,” Tim Quinn, executive director of a statewide coalition called the Association of California Water Agencies, told The New York Times. “We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state. My industry’s job is to try to make sure that these kind of things never happen. And they are happening.”
The Hoopa are formulating a drought mitigation plan that would plan out water use for three to five years, the Tribune reported, with measures such as storing water from the mountains that is currently not being tapped, beefing up fire prevention initiatives and shoring up backup water systems.
“The scientific community doesn’t know where this is going. No one can really say, because no one has seen anything like this before,” Oldenburg told the Two Rivers Tribune. “The planning needs to be three-to-five years out and it needs to be put in place now.”