As the Western most part of the United States battles a drought that is rapidly depleting reservoirs used for agriculture, drinking water, and fish habitat, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday asked residents and businesses in the nation’s most populous state to voluntarily cut their water use by 15%.
Newsom’s proposal is not an edict, but it does highlight the rising issues of a drought that is expected to intensify throughout the summer and fall and is linked to recent heat waves. Temperatures are rising in some parts of the region this week, but they are not as high as the record heat wave that killed hundreds of people in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia a week ago.
California’s Democratic governor is calling for voluntary water conservation, such as taking shorter showers, only running dishwashers when they are full, and watering lawns less frequently.
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“Given how low the reservoirs will be at the start of next year,” Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, explained to AP, “the governor wanted to issue the voluntary call in the event that next year is also dry. The voluntary conservation is as much about planning for a dry next year as anything.”
Newsom also added nine counties to the state’s emergency drought proclamation, which now encompasses 50 of the 58 counties in the state.
The emergency declaration excludes major cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. However, Newsom is still urging people in densely populated places to cut their water consumption because they rely on rivers and reservoirs in drought-stricken areas for a large portion of their supplies.
A severe drought (which some expects are attempting to link to climate change) has engulfed the United States’ West, just a few years after California declared its last dry period ended in 2016. The previous drought in California decreased groundwater resources and changed how people used water.
California’s urban water usage is down 16% on average compared to the previous drought. However, scientists claim that this drought is already hotter and drier than the last one, hastening the impact on people and the environment.
The levels of some of the state’s most critical reservoirs are dangerously low. Lake Oroville in Northern California is at 30% capacity, and state officials are concerned that water levels could drop to the point that a hydropower facility would have to shut down later this year. Lake Mendocino, which is located along the Russian River, is expected to dry up later this year, according to officials.
Mandatory water restrictions have already been introduced by certain municipal water organizations.
Inyo, Marin, Mono, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties have been added to the state’s emergency declaration. The counties affected account for 42% of the state’s population.
The declaration makes counties eligible for a variety of state actions, including the suspension of several environmental standards.
What’s not being said is that the state of California has been releasing water from reservoirs for months leading up to this recent crisis. And it wasn’t used by farmers, growers, ranchers, or city dwellers. According to an LA Times article, water “flows” from reservoirs are required for the recovery of endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon.
These measures, however, have failed because neither species has been found in any of the most recent trawling surveys, which include spending several days a month scouring more than 200 locations. According to Kristi Diener, a California water expert and third-generation Central Valley farmer, this approach of releasing water and hoping fish improve has failed for nearly 30 years.
Meanwhile, the state of California has long known that the reservoir water flows are not protecting fish, and that Californians are on the verge of a multi-year drought.
Northern reservoir management, on the other hand, have continued to dump water into the Pacific Ocean via the Delta.
Diener explains what is really going on:
“Less than two years ago, every reservoir in the state was brimming with water, and held a supply to last a minimum of five dry years without another drop of rain. Shasta and Oroville by themselves held enough water to meet the needs of 80 million people for a year. With 25 million receiving water from these sources, those two reservoirs alone could deliver water for more than three years. But the majority of that stored water has been released to the ocean for ongoing environmental causes that have not benefited a single endangered fish. Water managers claim the problem is families are not conserving enough. They are now recommending only using water for drinking and sanitation, and to stop watering any landscape that is not edible. Many property owners are already trucking in water.”
“50% of California’s water supply goes to environmental uses, 40% is converted to the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and the remaining 10% is for urban use. Families did not waste their way into a water shortage and cannot conserve their way out. Saving 25% of a 10% use equals 2.5%. Ongoing water releases continue to put fish over people, and both are suffering. More water rights holders than ever before are about to receive stop-using-water notices.”
“There is no accountability whatsoever to show positive results for the water continuously taken from the human supply. The governor appointed peeps in the CDFW spend hundreds of millions of our dollars on everything from studies and monitoring, to decades of supposed habitat restoration. They have failed the fishing industry big time, in addition to drying up the water supply for farmers and families.”
Former President Trump signed a memorandum in October 2018 titled “Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West,” which included instructions and guidelines on the procedure—most of which went unheeded by State Officials.
In the memorandum, he says “Decades of uncoordinated, piecemeal regulatory actions have diminished the ability of our Federal infrastructure, however, to deliver water and power in an efficient, cost‑effective way,” also warning that unless addressed right now, “fragmented policies and fragmented regulation of water infrastructure will continue to produce inefficiencies, unnecessary burdens, and conflict among the Federal Government, States, tribes, and local public agencies that deliver water to their citizenry.”
Current Reservoir conditions can be found at the California Department of Water Resources.
The California Data Exchange Center website has precipitation data, including real-time, daily, and monthly records.