City Finally Takes Action on Drought

Visalia City Council debates a drought action.
Visalia City Council debates a drought action.

On Monday night, the Visalia City Council voted three-to-two in order to enforce Stage Four of the Water Conservation Ordinance. Mayor Steve Nelsen voted no out of frustration that the city council was now into its eighth week of talking about the drought without taking any action.

“The citizens of Visalia understand the severity of the drought and they want to act, and they want us to act,” he said.

Warren Gubler voted no after trying to negotiate more watering days from Greg Collins in exchange for having the ordinance be effective immediately. Collins said he wasn’t overly concerned about March and voted yes for the ordinance even though it would take 30 days to go into effect. For the ordinance to go into effect immediately, four out of the five council members would have had to have voted yes.

The city council approved the final version of the Stage Four Water Emergency Ordinance with only two modifications. Amy Shuklian proposed to eliminate watering days in January and February and give those days to May and October, when it’s dryer. Bob Link was also trying to negotiate for more watering days throughout the year but for the sake of compromise, voted to pass the ordinance with Shuklian’s motion.

The second modification involves how long residents can water on their allowed days to irrigate. Residents are allowed to water for 30 minutes without having to concern themselves with 15 minute cycles. Link and Gubler were negotiating for 45 minutes a day, but the other three felt strongly about limiting the watering to 30 minutes.

A Cal Water study on the ordinance passed two weeks ago by the council said that if Stage Four were to go into effect, it would result in a 30% savings in water use. Several of the city council members were highly motivated to make sure that none of the changes they made Monday night altered this.

Before the council debated the details of the water ordinance, Nelsen asked Mark Larson, general manager of the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District, to give a short presentation on the condition of the Kaweah Basin. Larsen lauded the city council for taking what he considered sound ways to deal with the drought. In explaining the dire situation, Larsen said that the Kaweah basin had only 28% of its average water, and even that was eroding every day we don’t get a storm event. When surface water is not available farmers start pumping. Usually 70% of a farmer’s water comes from surface and 30% comes from the ground. In a year like this that number is flipped. Larson said that the water table is going down fifteen inches every year and is now down to 125 feet.

Today, ground water is a property right, but California is the only state in the country where this is true. Just like the surface water is regulated, Larsen predicted that the regulation of ground water is going to happen this year. Fortunately, he said, management will be local, but if the local government doesn’t do it right the state is going to step in. The ground water situation, along with the fact that 800,000 acres of farm land is being fallowed, and thousands of citrus will die, all pointed to the fact that Visalia needs to act now.

Collins’ reaction was, “What is this going to do to the economy when you fallow 800,000 acres?”

In the end the council was politely arguing about a difference of ten minutes of watering and a few more watering days per year. None of the members got exactly what they wanted, but under a sense of civic duty and urgency all negotiated to make sure something got passed. After four or five attempts to pass the ordinance, Shuklian finally hit on the perfect balance to get a majority. The fully amended ordinance can be read the City of Visalia’s website. The ordinance doesn’t go into effect officially until April 17th but because we are in the middle of a three year drought, all residents are encouraged to start compling now.

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