California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged residents and businesses in the nation’s most populous state on Thursday to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 15% as the Western United States suffers from a drought that is quickly depleting reservoirs used for agriculture, drinking water, and fish habitat.
Water conservation is not required, but it shows the increasing difficulties of a drought, which will intensify throughout the summer and autumn and is linked to more severe wildfires and heatwaves.
Temperatures are rising again in areas of the region this week as firefighters battle multiple wildfires in Northern California and other states, but they are less severe than the record heatwave that may have killed hundreds in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia in late June.
California’s most critical reservoirs are already dangerously low, and will almost certainly hit record lows later this year.
Lake Oroville in Northern California is at 30% capacity, and state officials are concerned that water levels may drop so low that a hydropower facility would have to shut down later this year.
Officials along the Russian River are concerned that Lake Mendocino could dry up later this year.
What is occurring on the West Coast of the United States is jaw-dropping, Newsom explained Thursday during a press conference at Lopez Lake, a reservoir in San Luis Obispo County created by a dam on the Arroyo Grande Creek that is at 34% capacity.
A catastrophic drought caused by climate change is gripping the United States West, only a few years after California proclaimed its previous dry period ended in 2016.
The last drought in California reduced groundwater resources and altered how people used water, with many homeowners and businesses removing landscaping and replacing it with drought-tolerant plants.
When compared to before the previous drought, urban water consumption in California has decreased by an average of 16%.
However, experts claim that the current drought is already hotter and drier than the last one, hastening the effect on people and the environment.
Because of California’s Mediterranean climate, it doesn’t receive much rain or snow until the winter. The state depends on snowfall in the mountains to fill reservoirs in the spring, which subsequently supply water for farms, houses, and fish all year.
Large storms in January encouraged authorities to be hopeful about avoiding water shortages this year. However, since the land was so dry, most of the snow in the mountains seeped into the ground rather than melting and filling rivers and reservoirs.
Given the state of California’s reservoirs, Karla Nemeth, head of the California Department of Water Resources believes Newsom’s call for citizens to consume less water is about preparing for next year.
The Democratic governor is requesting voluntary conservation measures such as taking shorter showers, only running dishwashers when they are full, and decreasing the frequency with which lawns are watered.
The executive director of Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, termed Newsom’s answer too little, too late.
She said that her organization and others urged the state to prepare for the drought by the end of 2020. State authorities, she claims, have given Newsom poor counsel.
Meanwhile, farmers have complained that their water allotment has been drastically reduced this year.
According to Nemeth, the state discharged water from Lake Oroville primarily to meet water quality standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is created by the two river systems that flow into San Francisco Bay.
Some municipalities have already implemented obligatory water restrictions. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown last week ordered state agencies to cease watering lawns, cleaning windows, and operating fountains that do not recycle water.
In Nevada, new legislation prohibits roughly one-third of the grass in the Las Vegas region, focusing on decorative turf in areas such as business parks and roadway medians.
Single-family houses, parks, and golf courses are exempt from the restriction.
In California, Newsom added nine additional counties to an emergency drought declaration that now encompasses 50 of the state’s 58 counties and 42 percent of the state’s population.
The declaration excludes major cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
However, Newsom is still urging residents in densely populated regions to limit their water usage since they depend largely on rivers and reservoirs in drought-stricken areas for a large portion of their supplies.
Counties included in the proclamation are eligible for a variety of governmental measures, including the suspension of some environmental rules.