SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (CN) — Pointing to climate change and the “jaw-dropping” heat waves relentlessly hammering the West Coast, California Governor Gavin Newsom implored residents and farmers Thursday to reduce water consumption by 15% to combat the state’s worsening drought.
In addition to the voluntary request, Newsom declared drought in places like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, pushing the total number of counties under emergency orders to 50. With Thursday’s additions over 40% of the state’s population is living under drought proclamations.
“Here we go again,” Newsom said of the state’s sharp return to drought. “We’re hopeful people will take that mindset they brought into the last drought and extend that forward with a 15% voluntary reduction.”
While current conditions are resembling — and in some cases worse — than the previous dry spell that drew the state’s first ever mandatory water restrictions, Newsom for now hopes Californians will cut back at the tap willingly.
The governor said he isn't ready to declare mandatory or “nanny state” rules as his predecessor did in 2015, but Newsom did offer ways for Californians to pitch in — reducing lawn watering, taking shorter showers and updating appliances. With lessons learned and memories from the previous dry spell still fresh, he claimed the Golden State is better prepared this time around.
“We’ve been through these proclamations before and we’ve come through them remarkably well,” Newsom said from a nearly empty reservoir in San Luis Obispo County. “We are in a position that’s a little more advantageous than the last time we went through a multiyear drought.”
Like most of the state’s reservoirs, Lopez Lake located just nine miles from the Pacific Ocean is currently well below its historical average for this time of the year at just 30% of capacity. Meager water levels are reflected in other larger, more critical reservoirs such as Shasta Lake (37%), Lake Oroville (30%), Folsom (28%) and Millerton (44%).
Following consecutive dry winters, including the last in which the state received less than 50% of its average, California’s water troubles are cascading again.
Wells are going dry in rural areas, hatchery salmon are being trucked out to sea due to scalding river temperatures, emergency dams are being built and regulators are prepping water management plans that stand to kill nearly an entire run of endangered Chinook salmon this fall.
The lack of available water has forced the federal government and state to slash deliveries to farmers while many counties and cities have already ordered residents to be more resilient at the tap.
Extended heat waves are also complicating matters by increasing evaporation at the state’s main reservoirs in Northern California.
For example, the city of Redding near Shasta Lake has already registered 27 days of temperatures above 100 degrees. The city of 90,000 residents is on pace to shatter its average number of triple-digit days per year of 41.
Unfortunately for Redding, scorching and potentially record-breaking temperatures are expected to return to it and much of the state this weekend.
Asked whether his administration is in favor of building new dams to prep for future drought, Newsom said nothing is off the table. He mentioned new reservoirs, desalination plants and stricter monitoring of groundwater supplies are all needed to prep the state’s water system for climate change.
But Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the environmental group Restore the Delta, called Newsom's response to the drought "too little too late."
“Senior management at Department of Water Resources and the California Natural Resources Agency have given the governor bad advice," Barrigan-Parrilla said in a statement. "They let too much of the water out of the system for industrial agriculture users — who only contribute 2 to 3% of the state's GDP. Our water resources and public trust resources like salmon fisheries have been squandered for almonds and other unsustainable crops."
“The decimation of salmon in the Sacramento River and the proliferation of harmful algal blooms in the Delta, which are the result of drought conditions from climate change and decades of mismanagement, are an assault on Delta environmental justice communities and Northern California tribes.”
She added: "The decimation of salmon in the Sacramento River and the proliferation of harmful algal blooms in the delta, which are the result of drought conditions from climate change and decades of mismanagement, are an assault on delta environmental justice communities and Northern California tribes.”
Newsom officially signed drought proclamations on Thursday in San Luis Obispo, Marin, Inyo, Mono Monterey, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. He said the orders are meant to eliminate red tape and make it easier for municipalities to make water-related decisions.
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