Drought-stricken California imposes another round of water cuts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Urban water users and farmers in California who depend on supplies from state reservoirs will receive less than expected this year as fears of a third straight dry year come true, a state officials announced Friday.

Water agencies, which serve 27 million people and 750,000 acres (303,514 hectares) of farmland, will get just 5% of what they requested this year from state supplies beyond what is needed for essential activities such as drinking and bathing.

That’s down from the 15% allocation announced in January by state officials, after a wet December fueled hopes of an easing drought.

But a wet winter hasn’t materialized and unless several inches of rain fall this month, the January through March period will be the driest start to a California year in at least a century.

“We are experiencing the whiplash of real-time climate change with extreme fluctuations between wet and dry conditions. That means adapting quickly based on data and science,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of water resources, in a press release announcing the reduction.

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The state water supply is not the only source for many California water agencies. But the minimum allowance means calls for conservation are likely to continue, with state and local authorities urging people to take shorter showers, pack washing machines and dishwashers full and use less water on lawns and washing cars.

Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, recently announced an $8.25 million public awareness campaign designed to encourage people to be more mindful of their water use.

So far, Californians have failed to respond to Newsom’s call for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use from 2020.

Water consumption in January increased by 2.6% compared to the same month in 2020, in dry conditions and hot temperatures.

Earlier this year, the state banned certain water-wasting practices such as watering lawns right after torrential rains and running sprinklers on sidewalks. But beyond that, Newsom’s administration hasn’t imposed water cuts, as former Gov. Jerry Brown did during the state’s last drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. But California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot recently said local or regional governments could issue their own water use reduction orders.

About one-third of Southern California’s water comes from the state supply, mostly delivered through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people. Abel Hagekhalil, the district’s chief executive, said in a statement on Friday that the public needed to do more to save water.

“We all need to take this drought more seriously and dramatically step up our water conservation efforts to help preserve our dwindling storage levels and ensure we have the water we need in the summer and fall.” , did he declare.

California is experiencing its second acute drought in less than a decade, and scientists say the American West is globally experiencing the worst mega-drought in 1,200 years, made more intense by climate change.

People adapted their water use during the state’s last drought, in part by tearing up sprinkler-hungry lawns and replacing them with drought-tolerant landscaping. Many of those water-saving habits have stuck.

But the dry conditions that have returned in 2020 demand more conservation, as reservoirs such as Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta remain below historic levels and less water from snowmelt is expected to run off the mountains this spring. .

Current forecasts estimate the state will have about 57% of its historic median runoff from April through July, said Alan Haynes, hydrologist in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Nevada River Forecast Center. Melted snow traditionally provides about a third of the state’s water supply.

A persistent lack of water can lead to a series of negative consequences, including the fallowing of fields by farmers and the death of salmon and other endangered fish.

Water providers who rely on state supply have a certain amount of water they can request from the state, and the state decides throughout the winter how much it needs. ‘they will get depending on the supply.

In December, before the heavy snowfall, state officials told water providers they would get nothing beyond what was needed for immediate health and safety, such as drinking and drinking. wash. The state increased that figure to 15% of supplies requested in January.

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The state must plan for future droughts by spending money to align canals so they don’t leak and protect against water loss, improve groundwater basins, and provide more financial incentives for people to make their properties more drought-tolerant,” said Jennifer Pierre, general manager. for State Water Contractors, which represent organizations that depend on state supply.

Critics of California’s water policy claim that the state promises more water each year than it has to give. This has led to a continued decline in supply to federally and state-run reservoirs, said Doug Obegi, a water attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We basically have a system that’s basically bankrupt because we’ve promised so much more water than can be delivered,” he said.

On Friday, officials also announced a plan to seek a temporary exemption from water quality requirements in the Northern California Delta, the part of the state’s watershed where California’s rivers meet. fresh water and salt water from the ocean.

This would allow state and federal water projects to discharge less water into the delta from the Shasta, Folsom and Oroville Reservoirs, which are the state’s main water supplies.

Water quality standards are designed, in part, to ensure that water does not become so salty that it cannot be used for agriculture, drinking and environmental protection.


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