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California wrings out months of rain to ease drought restrictions

The Golden State wants to keep conservation in focus even while relaxing some safeguards on water usage.

(CN) — Coming out from one of California's wettest winters on record, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an order Friday to rollback some water restrictions that the state put in place during the height of a drought two years ago. 

One voluntary initiative now falling to the wayside called for counties across the state to decrease their water use by 15%. Another provision from 2022 ordered urban water suppliers to level up what are known as Water Shortage Contingency Plans.   

“We’ve been waiting for some time to ask the rhetorical question and answer it. Are we out of the drought? Is the drought over in the state of California?” Newsom said, standing in front of farmland in rural Yolo County, an agricultural area near Sacramento, “while I want to affirm your instinct that it should be. It feels like it is. It is, and continues to be, complicated.”

From urban centers to rural agricultural valleys, historic rain all over the state has caused massive flooding and historic snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that has lessened drought conditions. But precipitation levels have been less profound in other sections, especially in the far north of the state that relies on water from the Klamath River and the south and southeastern part of the state that relies on water from the Colorado River. 

Citing that, and the unpredictability of future weather, Newsom said that he would not remove water restrictions altogether and declare the state’s drought over. 

“We need to be mindful that we have to conserve as a way of life,” Newsom said, adding that the state is still in negotiations with six other states to set new restrictions for use of the Colorado River’s water. 

For municipalities and water suppliers that have been trying to reach water restriction goals, however, the lifting of restrictions is meant to ease some stress.    

In California, and for agriculture in the state’s Central Valley especially, groundwater is an important part of the state’s water resources.

“We have to be sober to the fact that it will take more than a single wet year for groundwater levels to recover," said Angel Barajas, a member of Yolo County’s Board of Supervisors, who spoke to reporters Friday.

Yana Garcia, secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency, said that the recent rains were an opportunity for the state to capitalize “on the opportunities of the wet wets to build our resilience for the drier drys,” mainly by increasing efforts to divert excess water during storms and years where the state is hit with atmospheric rivers into underground aquifers.  

Garcia and other speakers at the event, including Karen Ross, the secretary the California Department of Food and Agriculture pointed out that these infrastructure projects could create storage — groundwater aquifers or open fields and retention ponds — for water that might otherwise flood homes and agricultural areas.  

Five people have died throughout the state during this season’s storms, while hundreds of homes and structures were damaged in Tulare County in the state’s Central Valley because of flooding. Thousands of acres of cropland have also been inundated with rain and flood waters. 

Newsom said the state is working with the federal government to repair and upgrade canals in the state, as well as thinking of “historic and traditional” ways to prevent floods, like by working to restore wetlands, along with levees.

Categories:Environment, Regional, Weather

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