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Newsom Expands Drought Emergency to Include Central Valley



Photo of fallowed ground next to an orchard in Merced County, California
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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday expanded a drought emergency declaration to a large swath northern and central California, including Fresno County, amid “acute water supply shortages.”

The drought declaration now covers 41 of 58 California counties, encompassing 30% of California’s population of nearly 40 million people.

It comes as Newsom prepares to propose more spending on both short- and long-term responses to dry conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of California and a huge swath of the American West is in extensive drought.

Bipartisan Valley Delegation Sought Declaration

Since March, a bipartisan coalition of Central Valley legislators and county leaders have urged Newsom to declare an emergency to allow for the relaxation of certain regulatory, environmental, and administrative restraints and allow for water transfers to food producers.

The counties of Fresno, Madera, Tulare, Kings, and San Joaquin have all formally declared local emergencies.

“We respectfully caution the administration, and the divisions of the state executing this declaration, that these emergency policies not be poisoned with divisive provisions or unnecessarily inflate the authority of bureaucratic agencies, and that it should be tailored to our pressing agricultural needs,” said state Sen. Andreas Borgeas, a Fresno Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. “More time will be needed to properly examine and understand the implications of the 13 provisions of the declaration released just today.”

Enables Regulatory Flexibility

The governor’s proclamation directs the State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases and diversion limitations to conserve water upstream later in the year to maintain water supply, improve water quality and protect cold water pools for salmon and steelhead.

The state of emergency also enables flexibilities in regulatory requirements and procurement processes to mitigate drought impacts and directs state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water from one water right holder to another, enabling available water to flow where it is needed most, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Dry Year Unique in Other Aspects as Well

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state’s water, was at just 59% of average on April 1, when it is normally at its peak.

This year is unique in the state’s recorded history because of extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May, the administration said. That led to a quick melting of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in the waterways that feed the Sacramento River, which in turn supplies much of the state’s summer water supply.

The problem was worse because much of the snow seeped into the ground instead of flowing into rivers and reservoirs, the administration said.

The warmer temperatures also caused water users to draw more water more quickly than even in other drought years, the administration said, leaving the reservoirs extremely low for farmers, fish and wildlife that depend on them.

That all reduced the state’s water supplies by as much as what would supply up to 1 million households for a year, officials said.

A Call to ‘Pull Together’

“It’s time for Californians to pull together once again to save water,” California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot said in a statement.

He urged residents to limit their use, whether by limiting outdoor watering, checking for leaks, or taking shorter showers and turning off the water when washing dishes or brushing teeth.

Newsom’s declaration directs the State Water Board to consider changing the rules for reservoir releases and water diversions to keep more water upstream later this year to maintain more water supply, improve water quality and protect cold water pools for salmon and steelhead.

41 Counties Now Covered by Declaration

Last month, Newsom declared an emergency in just two counties north of San Francisco — Mendocino and Sonoma. The expanded declaration added 39 counties to the existing declaration from Siskiyou County, on the California-Oregon border, to Kern County.

The full list: Del Norte, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity, Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties.