FAIRFIELD — Solano County’s water situation amid the latest drought is better than that in much of the rest of the state because of Lake Berryessa reservoir.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency for drought. California is experiencing record-dry conditions, the proclamation says.
“I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible,” Brown said in a press release.
The Bay Area just wrapped up the driest calendar year ever recorded, with records extending back to 1849. Fairfield received barely 5 inches of rain during this stretch, about a quarter of normal, and only a spattering of rain has fallen in January.
Sacramento has been hit hard by the drought. It is requiring its residents and businesses to cut water use by 20 percent to 30 percent.
Yet so far, Solano County cities and the farms that use irrigation water have weathered the drought.
“That’s because we’ve made big investments in the past to protect us from at least single dry years,” Solano County Water Agency General Manager David Okita said.
Perhaps the biggest investment took place in the 1950s, when local cities and farms took part in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Solano Project that created Lake Berryessa reservoir. The reservoir serves Solano County almost exclusively, with Napa and Yolo counties deciding to opt out of the project before it got built.
Lake Berryessa can hold 1.6 million acre feet. It presently holds little more than 1 million acre feet and is 69 percent full. Water delivery cutbacks begin when the lake as of April holds 800,000 acre feet, or is 50 percent full.
“The question is how soon are we going to reach that number,” Okita said. “My projections show if it doesn’t rain a drop the rest of this year, by the end of 2014, we’re going to be somewhere around 850,00 acre feet.”
If no rain falls in 2015, lake levels could fall below the trigger point by April 2015.
But Okita doesn’t expect multiple years with no significant rainfall. More likely, the trigger wouldn’t be reached until 2016 if drought continues, he said.
“There’s nothing to panic about now,” Okita said. “But certainly when you get one of these type of years, it reminds you that you have to have these contingencies in place.”
The Solano County Water Agency provides untreated water allocations to each city. Each city would decide how to respond to drought-related cutbacks to their supplies.
Fairfield and Vacaville also get Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water from the state’s North Bay Aqueduct. This water supply is dependent on the annual snow pack in the Sierra Nevada and faces drastic cutbacks during droughts.
Solano County last faced a serious drought from 1987 to 1992. Lake Berryessa shrunk to 25 percent of capacity, with such long-submerged features as a bridge and foundations from the old town of Monticello becoming visible again.
Some farmers took land out of production to supply cities with water. Suisun City raised water rates to encourage conservation. Water officials in 1992 said further drought could leave the county with only enough water to meet basic health and safety needs.
Then, just when it looked like Lake Berryessa would dry up altogether, storms came and broke up the six-year drought. In January 1993, residents in Green Valley were putting sand bags around their homes because of rain.
Okita held out hope that storms could still hit this year. The California rain year is measured from July 1 through June 30.
“It could rain hard in February or March and then it becomes just a normal dry year instead of one that’s exceptional,” Okita said.
For now, though, sun and not storms will dominate. The National Weather Service on Friday predicted dry weather for another seven days at least.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.