Newsom rolls back California drought restrictions after storms

On the heels of one of California’s wettest winters on record, Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that he would roll back some of the state’s toughest drought restrictions and dramatically increase agency water supplies. serving 27 million people.

Among the canceled articles is Newsom’s call for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use, launched under drought conditions in July 2021. He declared a statewide drought emergency in october.

The governor also rescinded a March 2022 order requiring city water providers to activate Level 2 of their water shortage contingency plans, which indicates a 20% shortage and leads to increased actions. conservation.

Newsom made the announcement at a ranch in the verdant hills of Dunnigan, Yolo County, north of Sacramento, where rice and almond farmers were celebrating the wet winter and were able to recharge some water tables this season for the crops.

But Newsom refrained from declaring the drought over, saying parts of his emergency drought order remain important as California adjusts to volatile weather and the looming possibility of another long drought period.

“It is incumbent on us to continue to maintain our vigilance and to maintain certain provisions of the Executive Order to enable prompt follow-up to groundwater replenishment projects, stormwater catchment and recycling programs here in the State of California,” did he declare.

Provisions regarding unnecessary use will remain in place, including bans on watering lawns within 48 hours of rain and on the use of hoses without shut-off nozzles. The ban on watering non-functional turf in commercial and industrial properties is also unchanged.

The remarkable turnaround comes after California’s three driest years on record, which drained reservoirs and dramatically reduced water supplies.

A series of torrential storms earlier this year helped alleviate some of the state’s most extreme drought conditions, filling rivers and reservoirs and delivering near-record snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

State water agencies – which were set to receive just 35% of supplies requested by the State Water Project this year – will now get 75%, Department of Water Resources officials said. The State Water Project is an extensive network of reservoirs, canals, and dams that acts as a major component of California’s water system.

“We were able to do this because of the series of winter storms that really provided robust flows throughout the system,” said John Yarbrough, deputy deputy director of the DWR.

With a 35% allocation, the agency would have delivered about 1.4 million acre-feet of water to its 29 member agencies, Yarbrough said. The increase will “more than double that amount” to about 3.1 million acre-feet. An acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons.

The allocation could increase even further in April, Yarbrough said. However, he and other officials stressed that the governor’s emergency proclamation was being amended — not removed.

“We’re changing it instead of eliminating it because, number one, parts of the state continue to experience severe water shortages,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said. That includes the Klamath Basin in far northern California and parts of southern California that depend on the Colorado River, he said.

“We also stand by while amending the proclamation as there are emergency impacts and continued drought conditions throughout the state, including … communities and households that lack safe drinking water coming out of their taps,” Crowfoot said.

Still, the change was welcome news after three grueling, dry years that devastated the lives and businesses of millions of Californians.

In 2022, major reductions in water deliveries led to a decrease in irrigated farmland by 752,000 acres, reducing crop revenues by $1.7 billion and costing an estimated 12,000 farm jobs.

The number of dry wells soared, particularly in the Central Valley, as farmers continued to suck up reserves from the soil to make up for reduced allocations, often leaving the state’s most vulnerable residents with little to spare. water and even less recourse.

Frank Ferriera draws a handful of fresh water from a large open pipe on his farm in Visalia, California. This year’s wet winter has recharged farmland and wells.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Urban areas have also seen unprecedented water restrictions that have led to outdoor watering limits of one and two days a week for 7 million people in Southern California, among other rules.

The region’s huge water wholesaler, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, lifted some of its restrictions last week, but local water providers may still have regulations in place.

Newsom administration officials said provisions centered on groundwater supply will also remain in place, including those that allow the state to assist communities with dry wells and respond to emergencies if necessary.

The provisions reflect that “we continue to have groundwater drought, groundwater deficit,” said Joaquin Esquivel, president of the National Water Resources Control Board.

Despite the surface water surplus, groundwater deficits will not be corrected by a single wet year, he said.

Crowfoot said the removal of the voluntary 15% reduction was part of a broader goal to move away from numerical targets and focus on a “more sustainable approach” to making conservation a way of life.

“It’s not about going back to normal anymore — it’s really about adjusting to a new normal, and that intensifies the extremes,” Crowfoot said. He said he would not declare the drought over.

“If we were to declare an end to the drought and remove all emergency arrangements, we would be unable to provide rapid and effective support where these conditions still exist,” he said, as the supply of water in bottle to communities whose wells have gone dry.

Such “climate whiplash” behavior — or swings between extreme wetness and dryness — has been exemplified by recent storms, including killer blizzards in the San Bernardino Mountains and devastating floods in Monterey County and the central valley.

Water managers said they are working to strengthen the state’s ability to capture and store water and upgrade infrastructure as part of the governor’s strategy for a warmer and cooler California. dryer, unveiled last August. These efforts include recent moves to divert more than 600,000 acre-feet of water from the swollen San Joaquin River to help replenish groundwater basins in the Central Valley.

But state officials have also acknowledged that Southern California’s other major source — the Colorado River — remains in dire condition.

The river is a lifeline that supplies around 40 million people, but drought and over-exploitation have left its reservoirs dangerously low, with water managers warning Lake Mead could soon fall below its intake valve the lowest and effectively cut off supply from the American West.

Federal authorities have ordered California and six other states to drastically reduce their use of this river, but so far no agreement has been reached.

California, meanwhile, received a bounty unprecedented in recent memory.

Nearly 65% ​​of the state is no longer in drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. Just three months ago, nearly 100% of the state was mired in some form of drought.

On Friday, snowfall across the state was 227% of normal for the date. Snowpack in the Southern Sierra was 283% of normal – an all-time high.

California’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, were at 78% and 82% capacity, respectively.

Still, another storm system could drop more rain and snow on the state early next week, forecasters said.

Times writer Ian James contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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