As the state grapples with the worst drought in its history, the county Board of Supervisors is expected Tuesday to declare a drought emergency and discuss ways of dealing with the crisis.
Having a local emergency proclamation will allow the county to respond more quickly to emergency conditions and improve the chances of receiving state or federal drought-related assistance, said Dan Buckshi, county administrative officer. The proclamation will need to be renewed every 30 days.
“The immediate and long-term impacts of the drought pose a threat to the health and welfare of our residents and a negative impact on the economy of the county,” Buckshi said in a staff report to supervisors.
The county has experienced below-normal rainfall levels for the past three years, and this rainy season is on track to be the driest on record.
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A recent storm dropped between 1 and 6 inches of rain in the county, but the county is still far behind normal totals for the rain season, which runs from July to June.
In a normal season, San Luis Obispo would have gotten nearly 17 inches of rain by the end of February. This year, the city has gotten less than 7 inches, as measured by the Cal Poly weather station, PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey said.
The recent storm provided some relief, but it was nowhere near enough to break the drought, said Martin Settevendemie, county agricultural commissioner.
“Some areas pulled back a little, but we are still in a very significant drought,” he said.
Specifically, the proclamation will allow the county to immediately fund purchases of any needed supplies and equipment. It would also make county employees available for drought-related assistance.
In addition to considering the emergency proclamation, supervisors will receive reports about the status of the county’s water infrastructure, including its reservoirs and utility service areas, as well as community outreach efforts and plans to reduce water usage in county facilities.
The county has already assembled a drought task force to coordinate responses to the dry conditions. Members of the task force include representatives from the county’s emergency services, public works, health agency, agricultural commissioner’s departments and others.
Most of the activity by the task force has been on a department-by-department basis, Settevendemie said. The agriculture department, he said, has been working with farmers to get information about federal drought relief programs.
The U.S. Drought Monitor has classified the entire county as experiencing exceptional drought.
Such a classification means the county is experiencing significant drought-related problems including losses in agricultural production, drinking water shortages, declines in water quality, threats to wildlife and increased fire danger.
Agriculture has been hardest hit, particularly cattle ranchers who have had to either drastically reduce their herds or, in some cases, eliminate them altogether. Some farmers are leaving their fields fallow, and all are paying increased costs to irrigate their crops.
The supervisors’ discussion of the drought emergency is scheduled for their afternoon session, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.