Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that the state would be ending numerous water restrictions, while keeping those aimed at preserving groundwater and helping further recharge the Klamath River and Colorado River areas.
For the past several years, the drought in California has brought forward numerous measures aimed at preserving water resources. These ranged from the more local efforts of not allowing hand watering in gardens, to California’s infamous 15% conservation target cut to water usage statewide. While the measures were partially successful in reducing water usage, more cuts were expected this year as the drought was expected to continue.
However, 12 major atmospheric river and bomb cyclones hit California in the first three months of 2023. While the rain brought everything from flooding to mudslides to snow in Los Angeles, it also significantly reversed California’s water woes. Drought conditions went from covering nearly the entire state last year to falling to only covering one-third of the state this month. Many reservoirs are now quickly approaching capacity after nearly emptying out in 2022. Snowpack levels are approaching 300% when only 100% is needed by April 1st to ensure enough water reaches Californians this year. Ski season in Tahoe is now even going until July since there is so much snow there.
Continued rains this month also led many localities to end water restrictions. This including the lifting of restrictions in Southern California, allowing the first regular water usage there since July 2022. As a result, pressure was soon placed on the state to end restrictions of their own, leading to Governor Newsom’s announcement on Friday.
According to Gov. Newsom’s roll back announcement on Tuesday, the 15% conservation target cut is to end, as are many drought contingency plans. This also included boosting up California’s allocation of requested water supplies to 75%, an increase of 40% from February and the largest amount of water being allowed to be doled out by the state since 2017.
However, Newsom also stressed that a drought was still on for many parts of the state, and that areas with groundwater reliance or those areas near the still-threatened Klamath River and Colorado River will still have restrictions in place. This includes:
- Maintaining the ban on wasteful water uses, such as watering ornamental grass on commercial properties;
- Preserving all current emergency orders focused on groundwater supply, where the effects of the multi-year drought continue to be devastating;
- Maintaining orders focused on specific watersheds that have not benefited as much from recent rains, including the Klamath River and Colorado River basins, which both remain in drought;
- Retaining a state of emergency for all 58 counties to allow for drought response and recovery efforts to continue
Drought restrictions eased statewide
“We’re all in this together, and this state has taken extraordinary actions to get us to this point,” said the Governor in a speech in Yolo County on Friday. “The weather whiplash we’ve experienced in the past few months makes it crystal clear that Californians and our water system have to adapt to increasingly extreme swings between drought and flood. As we welcome this relief from the drought, we must remain focused on continuing our all-of-the-above approach to future-proofing California’s water supply.”
Newsom’s announcement was well received on Friday, but with many water experts noting that even more restrictions could have likely been pushed back even more.
“The Governor was playing it cautiously,” explained Jack Wesley, a water systems consultant for farms and multi-family homes, to the Globe on Friday. “This is largely because a lot of people have told him that the drought isn’t over just yet. But then again those people also said January, February, and March were going to be dry too, and look how that turned out. So there is a lot we don’t know for the rest of the year, so some stay in place.”
“Of these, the restrictions around the Klamath and Colorado rivers make the most sense. They are both still very much under where they are supposed to be, so they still need help to flow right. It’s hard to argue on restrictions staying in place in those watersheds.”
“But, overall, this is just yet another sign that California is getting back to normal water-wise. It took a wild rainy three months, but even the Governor is starting to reverse his actions. That’s a very good sign.”
More water restrictions are expected to be cut even further in the coming weeks as more rain is currently forecasted to fall later this month.
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