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Thursday, Jan 09 2014 05:15 PM

City mulls asking governor for drought emergency

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    By AP Photo/Steve Yeater

    Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, left, leads his group out to measure snow levels near Echo Summit, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The readings Friday showed the water content in the statewide snowpack at just 20 percent of average for this time of year.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

As Bakersfield weathers the fifth driest year on record for Kern River water supplies, city officials will likely soon be joining their county and water agency counterparts in calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state drought emergency.

At Wednesday's Bakersfield City Council meeting, Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson directed Water Resources Department Director Art Chianello to draft a resolution for consideration at the Jan. 15 city water board meeting asking the governor to declare a drought emergency.

"I can tell you, right now our area is completely getting bypassed with any rain or snowmelt, and snowmelt is what the Kern River depends on. That's a major, major problem for us," said Johnson, who is vice chair of the City of Bakersfield Water Board, which oversees the city Water Resources Department. The city of Bakersfield owns a large portion of the water rights to the Kern River.

Chianello said Thursday that he hasn't drafted the resolution yet, but it could be similar to the county's draft drought emergency resolution, which will be considered Tuesday by the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

The county's draft letter to the governor, which accompanies its draft resolution, asks Brown to declare a state of emergency due to drought conditions and authorize the state Department of Water Resources "to transfer emergency water supplies to Kern County," and facilitate other water transfers.

"I think from the city's perspective, if there's anything we can do to get more state water down into Kern County and into the city, that's helpful," said Chianello, adding that a declaration from the governor could make it easier for agencies to transfer water to areas that don't have it.

In Kern County, state water primarily goes to irrigate farms.

Chianello said the drought isn't truly dire yet for residential users but urged them to check sprinkler timers to make sure they're functioning properly and set for the proper times and to make sure toilets and sinks are not leaking.

A spokesman for the state's Natural Resources Agency said Brown met Thursday with his new drought task force, which will convene weekly.

"We are closely and constantly monitoring the drought situation, and any emergency proclamation order would likely be forthcoming," said agency spokesman Richard Stapler. "We don't exactly have a time horizon (on when a proclamation would be issued), but they're constantly monitoring the situation."

In other council business Wednesday, Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell directed the council's Legislative and Litigation Committee to consider a request from Downtown Business Association Chairman Jeff Hayward for a no-panhandling policy.

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