Newsom declares drought emergency in California
Governor Gavin Newsom today declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California, as conservation efforts continue to fall well short of state targets.
Newsom has also authorized California water regulators have banned wasting water, such as spraying on public sidewalks, and ordered its emergency services office to fund drinking water as needed. But he stopped before issuing statewide conservation warrants.
“As the western United States faces a potential third year of drought, it is critical that Californians across the state redouble their efforts to conserve water in every way possible,” Newsom said. in a press release.
Today’s announcement extends drought-related emergencies, already declared in 50 counties, to the remaining eight counties where conditions had so far not been considered severe enough: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, San Francisco and Ventura.
Emergency declarations aim to facilitate responses to worsening drought – such as emergency purchases of bottled water or construction to bolster the water supply – by reducing environmental and other regulations. Under the proclamation, local water providers must begin to prepare for the possibility of a dry year ahead.
“We think we will be able to manage this year,” said David Pettijohn, director of water resources at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Next year is the problem. And we don’t know what the year of the water will look like. No one can predict the weather.
But California water watchers say that without a conservation mandate, California is wasting time and water. “We know that warrants are more effective than voluntary appeals,” said Heather Cooley, research director at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. “It takes a while to ramp up, and with the delay in asking Californians to save water this spring, we are further behind than we should be.”
Improved conservation, but still below targets
New data released today by the State Water Resources Control Board shows Californians reduced their home water use by 5% in August from August 2020, an improvement on reductions of less than 2% in July but still far from volunteering 15% cuts Newsom urged in July.
The hard-hit north coast, where the state first drought emergencies were reported in April, continued to post the largest drops in household water use – down 18.3% from August last year. Conservation figures declined as it moved south, with the San Francisco Bay Area retaining nearly 10% more water than last August.
The South Coast region – which includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura counties – showed improvement from July, when water use was roughly equal to last year. In August, residents used about 3.1% less water than in August 2020.
“These numbers are a little misleading, frankly,” Pettijohn said, pointing to existing conservation measures, including mandatory outdoor watering restrictions. “Looking at a month, in a year, versus the exact same month in the current year, it’s really not a true measure of the efforts being made in the city. “
Current reductions in water use add to conservation that has continued since the last drought. In 2020, Californians were already using about 16% less water in their homes and businesses statewide than in 2013, according to Water Board data analyst Marielle Pinheiro.
August was both the hottest and driest on record, according to the governor’s office. And the increased conservation, even during an unusually dry month, “is especially important,” Pinheiro said at the water council meeting today.
“Once you’ve learned how to conserve water, why turn on the water when brushing your teeth? Said former water board chairperson Felicia Marcus, who led the response during the last drought under former governor Jerry Brown. “The glass half full of that means the message is starting to set in.”
Always, Newsha Ajami, director of urban water policy at Stanford University, was surprised Newsom did not declare a statewide water conservation mandate today.
“We really need to dramatically reduce per capita water use in parts of the state,” she said. “If this drought persists longer and we end up having a few more dry years, we will have many more communities facing water scarcity and water access issues. “
A year of unknown water ahead
Newsom’s announcement comes today at a pivotal time for California water.
The state has just closed its second driest year of water on file, with nearly 88% of California now in the throes of extreme drought, or worse. By the end of September, storage of the tank statewide had reached 60% of average, with Lake Oroville setting a new record.
“It’s amazing that in the second dry year we are in such a frightening if not more frightening position than we were in this last drought. It’s almost beyond comprehension, ”Marcus said. “It’s a mind-blowing challenge.
State officials have warned water providers in the southern delta based on state water allocations that they could be completely cut Next year.
“We are starting with a record storage (tank)”, Karla Nemeth, Director of the State Department of Water Resources, said last month. “We would need 140% north of (average) precipitation to generate an average runoff in the reservoirs that would begin to fill this hole.”
Today, California is on the cusp of its rainy season, when it receives almost all of its annual precipitation.
A series of storms are expected to hit northern California this week, with another that could trigger rains over southern California as early as this weekend, according to Chad Hecht, a meteorological researcher at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes in the United States. Scripps. Institution of Oceanography.
Rainfall forecast ranges from eight inches in the Sierras over the next seven days to less than half an inch in Southern California, said Julie Kalansky, the deputy director of the center.
While the rain is unlikely to substantially fill empty reservoirs, it could help prepare thirsty soils for further rains to come.
For these storms, “their runoff may not be very high, but they will help moisten the soil. So if we get more of it, hopefully you get more runoff that you know can go into reservoirs or streams and ecosystems, ”Kalansky said.
But the coming aquatic year remains murky: Cooler-than-average temperatures in the tropical Pacific herald the onset of La Niña conditions, which National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center intercourse is 87% likely to continue between December and February.
La Niña can cause storms, altering the amount of precipitation that falls on California. But results vary – particularly for northern California – making it difficult to predict what that means for rain and snowfall in the northern two-thirds of the state, Kalansky said.
For Southern California, on the other hand, La Niña tends to predict a drier year. “It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to have a very dry year, but we usually don’t have really wet years when it’s a La Niña,” she said.
Overall, said Kalansky, “It remains to be decided whether this year will be wet or dry and what that means for the drought. We just don’t have those answers yet.