In response to the state’s severe drought, Caltrans has launched a statewide educational campaign on the state’s highways, urging all Californians to conserve water. California’s more than 700 electronic highway signs will now periodically display the following water conservation message:
SERIOUS DROUGHT HELP SAVE WATER
“Caltrans has already taken action to sharply restrict water usage,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Using our highway message signs, we are asking California’s 24 million drivers to join us in this important effort.”
Caltrans will support the www.saveourh20.org campaign by using California’s electronic Changeable Message Signs along the highways to raise awareness of the severe drought and encourage Californians to conserve water. The signs will be activated when there are no critical emergency or traffic safety messages or Amber Alerts.
As a large department responsible for 30,000 acres of irrigated landscaping, Caltrans is making dramatic reductions in its irrigation activities. Effective this month, Caltrans will take the following actions: Cut statewide irrigation activities by at least 50 percent; delay all new landscaping projects in severely impacted areas until the next rainy season to preserve the water supply; postpone all non-essential highway planting.
Also, cease watering in areas of the state suffering from the most severe drought impacts; expand its use of smart irrigation technologies, which turn off automatically when it rains. Such systems can reduce water usage by as much as 50-60 percent; use recycled water for irrigation and other activities whenever possible; forgo washing vehicles except when necessary for safety.
The department is taking these conservation steps because the historic drought threatens all Californians with a dangerously dry summer and protecting the public and water supply is a top priority.
With California facing its driest year on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency last month and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. Governor Brown has spoken with President Obama about crucial federal support during the ongoing drought, and the state continues to work with federal partners to ensure a coordinated drought response.
Across state government, action is being taken. The Department of General Services is leading water conservation efforts at state facilities, and the Department of Transportation is cutting water usage along California’s roadways by 50 percent.
In January, the state took action to conserve water in numerous Northern California reservoirs to meet minimum needs for operations impacting the environment and the economy. The State Water Resources Control Board announced it would work with hydropower generators and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to preserve water in California reservoirs. Recently the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Fish and Game Commission restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought.
The state is working to protect local communities from the dangers of extreme drought. The California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and is working with other state and local agencies to develop solutions for vulnerable communities. CAL FIRE hired additional firefighters and is continuously adjusting staffing throughout the state to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions. The California Department of Food and Agriculture launched a drought website to help farmers, ranchers and farmworkers find resources and assistance programs that may be available to them during the drought.
Even as the state deals with the immediate impacts of the drought, it’s also planning for the future. Recently, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and CDFA released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.
Governor Brown has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent, and the Save Our Water campaign launched four public service announcements encouraging residents to conserve and has resources available in Spanish. Last December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California’s preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water and water rights.