In an Emergency Proclamation on Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that 39 additional counties would be brought under the state drought emergency, stretching from the Oregon border in the North to the tail end of the Central Valley in Kern County.
41 of California’s 58 counties are now effectively under a drought emergency. The previous two counties who were covered under the initial state of emergency last month. Mendocino and Sonoma counties, are now joined by Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties.
While the emergency declaration doesn’t force water conservation restrictions that former Governor Jerry Brown enacted during the 2012-2016 drought, it does allow state agencies to change reservoir releases for farms and cities alike to conserve water, allows easier water transfers within the state, and starts up drought resilience programs.
Governor Newsom said in a statement on Monday that the state will be working on ways to help with water resilience endeavors and called for Californians in those counties to conserve water.
“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” stated Newsom. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”
The California Natural Resources Agency also highlighted the urgency of water conservation on Monday.
“It’s time for Californians to pull together once again to save water,” said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot in the same statement. “All of us need to find every opportunity to save water where we can: limit outdoor watering, take shorter showers, turn off the water while brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Homeowners, municipalities, and water diverters can help by addressing leaks and other types of water loss, which can account for over 30 percent of water use in some areas.”
SoCal, Bay Area avoid being placed under expanded drought emergency order
The cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and many Bay Area and Southern California counties were notable exceptions to the expanded emergency order, primarily due to better water management and not relying largely on local rainfall. Southern California counties, for example, are part of federal and state water systems, with much water being imported from natural sources such as the Colorado River. Previous water shortages and challenges of giving water to a growing population helped prepare the counties for the latest drought.
According to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), there is enough water reserved to keep the area at current water use levels without any usage measures until the end of 2022. However, the region isn’t ignoring the issue either.
“While our region does not face mandatory water use reductions, we support residents looking into actions they can take to use water efficiently around their homes and businesses,” said MWD general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger on Monday.
This year’s drought, brought on by a less than anticipated snowpack and snowmelt coming from the mountains of Northern and Central California, mixed with lack of rainfall, warmer than usual temperatures, higher water use than normal by many people and farms, more water than usual being seeped into the ground rather than flowing out through rivers, and climate change came together for an almost “perfect storm” of drought.
“So many bad things happened at once,” John Cantrell, a water resource engineer who has worked on reservoirs in 9 states, including California, explained to the Globe Tuesday. “Some of it is higher temperatures, some of it is higher usage, and some it is just plain old bad luck.”
“The emergency order makes sense. All the covered counties are now about 1/3rd of the state’s population and a heck of a lot of their food and farms. Water needs to be carefully doled out right now. It’s not like last decade where people were being forced to let their lawns die and water wasn’t given out in restaurants unless asked. There’s still plenty of time to work on this. But I’m sure that the Governor there, who doesn’t want to make people mad right now due to that recall election coming up, doesn’t want to tell people they can’t water their flowers anymore. It’s not a great situation to be in as a state.”
As of Monday, no other states are currently under threat of being covered by the emergency drought order, although more may be added later this year due to warmer temperatures in the summer.