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In a visit to Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County on Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom stated that mandatory water restrictions would likely be put into place as soon as early October due to worsening drought conditions. With the state currently in it’s worst drought since the 1970’s, Newsom has already installed many water reduction measures, including announcing a water emergency in 50 of California’s 58 counties and a voluntary measure he announced last month asking all Californians to reduce water usage by 15%.
However, due in large part to the Newsom Administration’s handling of water resources, the situation has quickly worsened in the last 6 weeks since his 15% announcement. Water levels in reservoirs have gone down even further, with Lake Oroville in particular being drawn down so much that the dam producing electricity at Lake Oroville had to be deactivated. Over 5,700 farms were also hit hard as the state water board voted to cut off water access to them to help stop the drought.
But, with no end to the drought in sight, and the state water season beginning on October 1st, Newsom said that mandatory measures could come soon, similar to the mandatory measures former Governor Jerry Brown implemented during the last drought in the mid-2010’s.
“At the moment, we’re doing voluntary,” said Newsom on Tuesday “But if we enter into another year of drought, and as you know our water season starts October 1st, we will have likely more to say by the end of September as we enter potentially the third year of this current drought.”
However, Newsom soon added that it was quite possible that it wouldn’t come to that, as Californians have been using less and less water since the mid-2010’s drought due to water reduction legislation passed in the wake of it in the late 2010’s.
“I’m not here as the nanny state, I’m not trying to be oppressive,” added the Governor. “We brought in that mind set into this drought, and this gives us an advantage over the last drought. Residential use in the state of California currently is 16% below where we were in 2013 as we go into this next drought. We have also been more effective and efficient in terms of water recycling and storage, and we have made a substantial amount of progress on groundwater strategies.
“We’re going to get through this. And we’re going to come out the other side more capable and more resilient.”
Water restrictions and the recall election
However, the return of possible water restrictions is an unpopular measure across the state. Currently, many counties undergoing voluntary restrictions, such as Santa Clara County, have reported a 0% change in water usage from the desired 15%. Southern Californian residents, whose counties have employed stricter water controls for decades and have been among the few to have not been placed under an emergency by the state, have also spoken out against possible mandatory restrictions, saying it is punishing them over Northern Californians.
“SoCal has been really good with water,” explained hydrologist Dr. Craig Kirk to the Globe on Wednesday. “Due to low levels on the Colorado River, there might be need for restrictions soon. But, right now, they can safely go without restrictions. And that’s the thing. Over the years cities like Los Angeles had to keep engineering ways to conserve and store water for events like droughts. Northern California never did so. And now punishing the entire state for something they did? I know a lot of water guys down there and they think it is very unfair.”
And, despite the seriousness of the drought, underscored by Newsom’s visit to the wildfire-scarred Big Basin Redwoods State Park with EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Newsom is hesitant to do more in the next month despite many experts begging him to put more restrictions in place now.
“The recall election is breathing down his neck,” noted Bay Area pollster Robin Platt-Gutierrez to the Globe. “Lockdown measures and COVID-19 restrictions were large factors to the recall even being an election in the first place. If Newsom were to put huge water restrictions in place now, less than a month before the recall election, he would likely draw out some more base support but he would also lose a lot of people on the fence. Saying that you, by law, have to stop watering your lawn would make a lot of people, even donors, mad. And he just can’t afford that, not with him barely hanging on to a lead in the recall.”
“It’s likely the main reason why we haven’t seen even more restrictive measures at this point. If he beats the recall, it’s all but assured we’ll see way more restrictions. If he loses, whoever beats him will likely also put in some restrictions, but the way it will happen would be largely different, likely rollbacks on environmental uses in favor of rebuilding reservoirs or diverting water back to farms and urban areas, much like how the state operated several decades ago.”
“But that’s speculation. Right now those possible restrictions are dependent on things that will happen in the next 6 weeks.”
Should Newsom win the recall election, he is likely to look into mandatory restrictions beginning in late September.
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