Newsom declares statewide drought emergency, urges California to conserve water
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide drought emergency on Tuesday, appealing to all Californians to do more to conserve water in the face of one of the state's most severe droughts on record.
"As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it's critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible," Newsom said.
While most of California's 58 counties have been in a state of drought emergency since July, Newsom's proclamation added the last eight remaining counties, and further bolstered his call for everyone to voluntary reduce water use by 15%. The proclamation notes that the State Water Resources Control Board may adopt emergency regulations to prohibit wasting water, such as hosing down sidewalks or driveways, allowing drinking water to flood gutters or streets, or washing a car without a shut-off nozzle.
The declaration came as state water officials announced that Californians had cut their water usage by 5% in August, a modest improvement over July, when water use decreased by 1.8%
The proclamation orders local water suppliers to implement their water shortage contingency plans at "a level appropriate to local conditions that takes into account the possibility of a third consecutive dry year."
The eight counties added to the emergency declaration are Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco and Ventura.
The monthly water conservation figures, which were released during a meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board, showed parts of the state already meeting or approaching the governor's call for reducing water use.
Water use decreased 18.3% in August in the North Coast region and 9.9% in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In the South Coast region of Southern California, which is home to more than half the state's population, people used 3.1% less water in August than they did in the same month in 2020. While still far from Newsom's target, that was significantly better than in July, when the region's water use was down a minuscule 0.1%.
"It is encouraging and heartening to see an over-doubling of the conservation effort from July to August, really demonstrating that it does take time for … the message to spread, and for, really, the response to be seen," said Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state water board. "We're seeing good signs, but we need to continue to ensure we're conserving."
A series of storms are forecast to bring rain and high-elevation snow to northern and central parts of California in late October. But those storms alone won't be nearly enough to pull the state out of drought.
The state Department of Water Resources has said that because the past year has been extremely hot and dry, an estimated 140% of average statewide precipitation would be needed in the coming year to achieve average statewide runoff. The agency said in a report that this reflects the "moisture deficit" across the state.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California responded to the governor's statewide drought declaration calling for all communities to help conserve limited water resources.
Adel Hagekhalil, the MWD's general manager, said people in Southern California have done a great job using water more efficiently in recent years.
"Metropolitan has worked alongside them to adjust our operations and increase our calls for conservation to ensure the region has water to get through this drought," Hagekhalil said in a statement. "But given the increasing severity of conditions, we all need to step up and immediately cut back our water use even more."
He said the MWD board of directors will consider next month whether to urge member water agencies across Southern California "to implement mandatory conservation in their communities, as outlined in their water shortage contingency plans."
Hagekhalil said that these community-specific plans will help promote conservation, and that Metropolitan plans to expand its programs offering rebates that encourage customers to make water-saving changes.
The past year ranks among the most severe droughts in more than a century of records in California.
Based on statewide precipitation totals, the water year that ended Sept. 30 was the second-driest on record, surpassed only by 1924. State officials say the past two water years have been the driest on record for a two-year period, surpassing the drought of 1976-77.
Scientific research has shown that the heating of the planet with the burning of fossil fuels is making droughts more intense in the West and reducing the flows of rivers beyond the decreases they would have seen without global warming.