Governor Jerry Brown declared the statewide drought emergency over except in the counties of Tulare, Fresno, Kings and Tuolumne, and the Visalia City Council agreed.
The city council voted on April 17 to continue enforcing Stage 2 of the Water Conservation Ordinance by a vote of 4-1, with Mayor Warren Gubler voting no. Gubler felt that imposing water restrictions during a wet year was the wrong approach and not based in science.
California Water Service (CalWater) encouraged the city council to consider continuing Stage 2, emphasizing that a single wet year does not signal the end of the drought and does not resolve the larger problem of groundwater overdraft. CalWater also said that Visalia will need to revisit its water ordinance after the state finalizes its long-term water conservation framework.
Assistant City Manager Leslie Caviglia said that Gov. Brown designated four counties as still under a drought order because of the severe overdraft of its groundwater supply. In a presentation she illustrated how Visalia’s groundwater level has gone from 10 feet to 133 feet below the surface since 1948. Caviliglia said Visalia is nowhere near recovering the decline in groundwater even with the improvement of a few feet that came with this wet season.
Visalia is completely dependent on its underground water supply.
After showing the council membrs evidence that Visalians have increased their water use in 2016, Caviglia believes that people will not do the right thing unless conservation is mandatory. She reminded the council that by 2020, according to the Ground Water Sustainability Act, Visalia has to figure out how it is going to restore its groundwater and make it sustainable.
Gubler felt that Stage 2 restrictions were extreme in the face of such a wet year and the current snowpack. He quoted a Fresno Bee article that said that Visalia was not included in Gov. Brown’s list of regions in a drought emergency. Gubler said that the Monson area and East Porterville were still under the emergency drought order.
Gubler said that the city staff was reacting emotionally and not basing its decision in science. He said that Stage 2 restrictions do not correctly address the problem and that Visalia’s underground aquifer will remain in overdraft despite the restrictions.
Maile Melkonian said during public comment that societies have imploded because of lack of water. She said that “We live in a new paradigm.” If we expect our economy to flourish then we cannot continue to waste our water resource.
“My problem with lifting Stage 2 restrictions is that it sends a message, go ahead and over use water like we always have. We are already in the saving mindset, lets continue it,” she said.
Councilmember Steve Nelsen agreed, saying that if the rain continues for 10 years then he might think the drought is over. Councilmember Phil Cox said that Visalia is in the same situation with its water as its air quality, which is dire.
Councilmember Greg Collins said that if Visalia’s bank account looked like the ground water overdraft chart that Cavilglia showed during her presentation, the city would be bankrupt. “If we don’t start acting more like Phoenix and less like Visalia we will have serious economic and public safety consequences.”
Gubler responded by saying that farmers play by an entirely different set of rules and that everyone needs to come to the table if conservation is going to work and Visalia is going to replenish its aquifer.
Stage 2 restrictions include no watering during the months of December, January and February. Starting in March, residents can only water twice a week. No watering is permitted after a rain. Stage 2 restrictions will terminate after one year unless reinstituted by the city council.
Visalia Adopts New Fireworks Ordinance
Visalia Fire Marshall Kurtis Brown listed off the many safe ways to celebrate the Fourth of July: attend the fireworks show at the Visalia Country Club, go to the baseball game at the Rawhide stadium or attend the community event at the Groppetti Stadium.
But if you want to celebrate by using illegal fireworks it will cost you–big time.
In May of 2016 the Visalia City Council passed a resolution instituting Administrative Fines and Penalties for Dangerous Fireworks of $1000. The Visalia Fire Department made the fines permanent by writing a new fireworks ordinance. The city council voted 5-0 to approve it.
Brown said that during the four-day Fourth of July holiday period in 2016 the department issued 60 $1000 fines for illegal use of fireworks. Three of those people were caught and fined twice during the same time period. Brown also reported that there were six fires.
To make the ordinance more effective in terms of prevention, the department created an escalating system of penalties for the use of dangerous fireworks. Fines will increase from $1000 for the first offence, $2000 for the third and $3000 for the third.