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Calif. Governor Declares Drought

by Cynthia Laird
Monday Jan 27, 2014
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Governor Jerry Brown points to this year’s lack of rainfall at a news conference in San Francisco.
Governor Jerry Brown points to this year’s lack of rainfall at a news conference in San Francisco.  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

LGBTs will likely see signs urging water conservation in area gyms and sex clubs in the wake of California Governor Jerry Brown declaring a drought state of emergency.

With the state facing water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history, Brown held a news conference in San Francisco to make the official declaration and to urge all citizens to voluntarily conserve 20 percent of their water use.

Brown said he was asking all state residents to help, whether they live in rural or urban areas.

"Hopefully it will rain eventually but we have to do our part," Brown said at the packed January 17 news conference at his office in the State Building.

The governor said the conservation effort was voluntary, for now, but that the state’s millions of residents would be affected.

"From the Mexican border to the Oregon border there are a lot of consumers and a lot of lawns," the governor said.

"It’s important to awaken all Californians to the serious matter of drought and the lack of rain," he added.

According to Brown’s declaration, the state’s water supplies have dipped to alarming levels. Snowpack in the mountains, a leading indicator of drought conditions, is approximately 20 percent of the normal average for this time of year. Additionally, the state’s largest reservoirs have very low water levels for this time of year and the major river systems, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, have significantly reduced water flows.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of the state, including the Bay Area, is in "extreme" drought conditions.

In recent weeks, weather forecasters have blamed the lack of precipitation on a high pressure ridge off the coast. Forecasting models show little in the way of winter storms on the horizon.

Area political leaders said they were glad the governor issued the declaration.

State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) pointed out that there are many simple ways to conserve water. Fixing leaky fixtures and appliances, installing water-saving showerheads and taking shorter showers, and only using the dishwasher and washing machine when you have a full load are among suggestions he listed in a news release.

Water conservation is already on the mind of at least one San Francisco business catering to gay men. At Eros, co-owner Ken Rowe told the Bay Area Reporter that the sex club is already conserving water.

"We have low-flow shower heads and will be putting up more signage in the shower rooms," Rowe said. "We’ve done this before during dry years but will especially now with the governor’s declaration."

Other businesses that use a lot of water are also doing their part.

Todd Ahlberg, co-owner of Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub, which has a location in the Castro, said they have been water-conscious since opening their first location at Point Isabel in the East bay 15 years ago.

"Over that time, we’ve been through a few droughts," Ahlberg said in an email.

He added that Mudpuppy’s uses special low-flow nozzles when washing pooches.

"Unlike most dog washing facilities, we don’t use garden head nozzles to wash dogs. Those are intended to get as much water on plants and lawns as quickly as possible. Dogs don’t need that," he explained. "Our nozzles are rated at 1.5 [gallons per minute], as opposed to standard nozzles that pump out anywhere from seven to 11 GPM."

Other conservation measures in use include a "walk-through" tub system that allows Mudpuppy’s to wash two dogs at once (if the animals also live together) and they don’t leave the water running while shampooing and conditioning.

"We use only the water we need," Ahlberg said.

At the news conference, Brown was asked what lessons he learned from the 1976-1977 drought when he was also governor. He joked that he didn’t save his notebook. But on a more serious note, he said people needed to come together.

"A lot of what goes on in the state Capitol is people want this or that," he said. "Now we’re facing a phenomenon of nature and we’re dependent on one another."

Gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) spoke in similar terms in a statement to the B.A.R. that also urged water agencies to make sure low-income people aren’t hard hit if prices increase.

"We are not going to be able to do anything about how much rain falls, so we will be short on water," Ammiano said. "What we have control over is how we use what falls. It’s up to us to rein in our water use to make sure it’s available for those who really need it. We should also make sure that the burden of costs doesn’t fall hardest on those who can least afford it."

Ammiano said that those with low incomes "should not face heavy drought-related water price increases that will further sap their limited incomes."

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission said in a statement that it shared Brown’s concern over persistent dry weather conditions and urged its customers to "look for any opportunity to further reduce their consumption."

Several members of California’s congressional delegation, including Representative Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco-San Mateo) thanked the governor for the emergency declaration. They noted that the federal spending bill signed by President Barack Obama last week restored the federal government’s emergency drought programs.

The governor’s emergency declaration also gives state water officials more flexibility to manage supply throughout the state, including water transfers.

Gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) told the B.A.R. that the drought situation "is as serious as it appears to be."

"Only time will tell how long the situation will continue and how much damage will be done to people’s lives and the economy," he said. "We need to take this very seriously."

Leno added that while San Francisco’s situation is stable, "we all need to do our part in conservation."

The SFPUC has information on its website about rebates for installing low-flow toilets and washing machines. For information, visit www.sfwater.org and click on "Customer Service," then "Rebates."

Save Our Water, a statewide program created in 2009 by the California Department of Water Resources and the Association of California Water Agencies, offers tips on water conservation as well as ways to permanently reduce water use. More information can be found online at www.saveourh2o.org.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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