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Californians face water restrictions as drought intensifies

All of the Golden State is mired in some level of drought amid a third year of below-average rainfall.

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday enacted some of the strictest water conservation measures since 2016 after a record-breaking dry start to 2022. 

Newsom signed an executive order that mandates the State Water Resources Control Board evaluate whether to ban nonessential irrigation of grass in front of large industrial and commercial buildings. 

The order will not apply to private lawns or school fields, for instance, but is an indication that Californians will once again have to return to measures aimed at curtailing the use of water.

“While we have made historic investments to protect our communities, economy and ecosystems from the worsening drought across the West, it is clear we need to do more,” Newsom said. “Today, I am calling on local water agencies to implement more aggressive water conservation measures, including having the water board evaluate a ban on watering ornamental grass on commercial properties, which will drive water use savings at this critical time.”

Currently, all of California is experiencing some form of drought, with 93% of the state mired in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor

A mild precipitation event hit California late Sunday and into Monday, but it was not nearly enough to compensate for the driest start to a calendar year in recorded state history. Reservoirs have dropped to alarming lows and the snowpack that California relies on to melt throughout spring into summer, incrementally replenishing reservoirs, is slender

Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in the state, is currently at 38% of its total capacity, which is only about 48% of its historical average for the point in the water year. 

The bad news is compounded by the fact that the rainy season for California is essentially over. While the state could get a storm or two in April, historical precipitation patterns mean the state will likely have to wait until next winter to get a reprieve from the drought. 

The executive order also asks regional water control boards throughout California to enact Level 2 of the Water Shortage Contingency Plans. While each plan varies from region to region, they will all involve implementing conservation actions to prepare for water shortages. Residents may be asked to reduce the amount of water they use outdoors and may be subject to reductions in the number of days they can run their sprinklers. 

Many of the farmers who operate in the Central Valley have been informed by water managers they will not be receiving their annual allocations, meaning some orchard keepers will have to pull out their trees and other farmers will fallow their land. 

Scientists ascribe at least part of the prolonged drought in the American West to a changing climate. Rising surface temperatures accelerate evaporation, making vegetation drier and more susceptible to wildfire. Climate change is also making droughts longer, more intense and more frequent around the globe, with the American West receiving the brunt of dry winters so far. 

“Amid climate-driven extremes in weather, we must all continue to do our part and make water conservation a way of life,” Newsom said. 

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