Standing in the dry, cracked bottom of Lake Mendocino, gavin-newsom” target=”_blank”>Gov. Gavin Newsom< counties where grape growers and drinks” target=”_blank”>wineries< governor said a broader drought declaration could come as conditions change.
California, which is now in its second year of drought, is bracing for another devastating disasters after a winter with little precipitation.
“Oftentimes we overstate the word historic, but this is indeed an historic moment, certainly historic for this particular lake, Mendocino,” Newsom said, standing where 40 feet (12 meters) of lake water was supposed to be. The lake is at about 40% of normal capacity.
About three-quarters of the American West is in what is called a megadrought, with critical waterways like the Colorado River and Rio Grande that supply millions of people and farms expected to have dismally low flows this year. The executive on Wednesday announced the creation of a working group helmed by the Interior and Agriculture departments to address worsening drought conditions in the U.S. West.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a news conference in the parched basin of Lake Mendocino in Ukiah, Calif., Wednesday, April 21, 2021, where he announced he would proclaim a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Last week, hundreds of farmers who rely on a massive irrigation project spanning the us-regions-California border were told they’ll get a fraction of the environment they need as federal regulators attempt to balance agriculture with threatened and wild-nature” target=”_blank”>endangered fish species< allows California to prepare for expected effects of the water shortage statewide more quickly.
Though he did not declare a statewide drought emergency, the State Water Resources Control Board in March sent early warnings to 40,000 water rights holders urging them to start conserving. The board suggested that agricultural users reduce irrigation and seek other water sources and that people in cities and towns put in drought-resistant landscaping and replace household appliances with water-saving ones.
“If you’re in a different part of the state, you probably need to know that this will one day happen to you,” Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said of the drought declaration.
The department says this is California’s fourth-driest year on record, especially in the northern two-thirds of the state. But Newsom said people in cities also are using 16% less water than they were at the start of the last major drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. That drought prompted then-Gov. Jerry Brown to impose broad restrictions on water use that affected nearly everyone in the nation’s most populated state.
“We’ve barely been out of those drought conditions, and here we are entering back into these drought conditions,” Newsom said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in the parched basin of Lake Mendocino in Ukiah, Calif., Wednesday, April 21, 2021, where he announced he would proclaim a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Farmers and leaders in the agricultural Central Valley are still hoping for a statewide declaration.
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Under Wednesday’s order, the state Water Resources Control Board power can curtail water rights in those counties if major users do not voluntarily begin to conserve. Some of the largest commercial water users in the region are grape growers and wineries. Local governments could place restrictions on residential water users as part of the conservation effort.
The Russian River watershed is unique in that it relies much more on snow and rain as it is “geographically isolated” from larger water systems, said Wade Crowfoot, the state’s natural resources secretary.
Without aggressive conservation, the lake is likely to be extremely low by October.
Elsewhere, local water districts are already taking action to address dry conditions. In Marin County, which neighbors Sonoma, water officials voted Tuesday to require residents to reduce water use through measures such as not washing vehicles at home or filling backyard pools. People could face fines for violations.
Newsom said he’s not anticipating issuing mandates but said he’s planning for everything.