California Governor Gavin Newsom made an announcement in San Luis Obispo County Thursday, asking all Californians to reduce water usage by 15% to help combat the state’s drought crisis.
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The drought, caused largely by rising temperatures, a drastically limited amount of Sierra snowpack meltwater feeding steams and reservoirs and about half of all stored water going to environmental purposes, such as keeping up stream levels for endangered fish, has already caused an emergency proclamation in 41 out of the 58 counties in the state and led to thousands of farms to be denied water so far this year. The 2021 drought has already been labeled as the worst drought in California since 1977, with many experts expecting it to surpass those levels very soon.
As a result of worsening conditions, Governor Newsom added nine more counties to the emergency drought declaration, including the counties of Inyo, Marin, Mono, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. Only a few counties, mainly Southern Californian counties such as Los Angeles and San Diego, remain off the declaration, largely due to employing water transportation strategies and not solely relying on reservoir systems since the early 1900’s to ensure a steady supply of water to the area.
The 15% that Newsom is asking for is strictly voluntary, although mandatory restrictions, such as those employed by then-Governor Jerry Brown during the last drought in 2015, may come back if not enough Californians agree to reduce water usage.
“This is jaw-dropping, what’s happening in the West Coast of the United States,” said Newsom Thursday at a speech at the Lopez Lake reservoir in San Luis Obispo County. “We have conservation as a way of life as it relates to more effective use and utilization and distribution of water resources. However, conditions are such they continue to devolve and as a consequence today, we are doing what we had signaled was likely to happen.
“We are encouraging people to do common sense things.”
A worsening drought in most of California
While urban water usage is down by 16% compared to previous water usage levels in the mid-2010’s drought largely due to holdover measures stemming from that drought, experts have said that more is needed, spurring Newsom to ask for more reductions.
“What we didn’t understand was we had this deepening and intensifying drought underground,” said the director of the California Department of Water Resources Karla Nemeth in a statement on Thursday. “It really is the speed at which the compounding effects of climate change in soil moisture and ambient temperatures have made this drought a very different kind of drought. It’s no longer a slow-moving train wreck.”
However, many farming groups, whose members have already had crops decimated, if not outright ended, this year, have pointed to a single culprit.
“This is one problem where it’s hard to solely blame someone like Newsom,” explained Dee Wilkerson, a farmer in the Central Valley to the Globe on Thursday. “It’s giving so much water to fish. They’re ignoring the people, ignoring farms, and even ignoring other parts of the environment that need water. Instead they’re putting it to save fish like the Delta Smelt and salmon. They’re wrecking our future just to save a few fish. This is intolerable.
“It’s a hard decision, but ask anyone out here, and they’ll say sacrifice the fish to save the people. At least rational people think that way. As soon as someone says “public trust resources” they should not be paid any attention to. We’re in crisis mode and we need a hard decision on this. No more half measures. I know LA and San Francisco and other areas have more precedence too, especially with the recall coming up and Newsom not wanting to lose a lot of people with water emergencies, but farms are literally dying here. Crops are being dug up. We need it”
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