SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP
) — California
Gov. Gavin Newsom
asked residents and businesses in the nation's most populous state on Thursday to voluntarily reduce their water
consumption by 15% as the Western United States
suffers from a drought
that is rapidly depleting reservoirs used for agriculture, drinking water, and fish
is voluntary, but it demonstrates the growing challenges of a drought that will only worsen throughout the summer and fall and is linked to more intense wildfires
and heat waves
. Temperatures in parts of the region are rising again this week, but are less extreme than the record heat wave that may have killed hundreds in the Pacific Northwest
California's most important reservoirs are already dangerously low and will likely reach historic lows later this year. Lake Oroville in Northern California is at 30% capacity, and state officials are concerned that water levels will drop so low that a hydroelectric plant will have to shut down later this year. Lake Mendocino along the Russian
River may also empty later this year.
“What is happening on the West Coast of the United States is jaw-dropping,” Newsom said Thursday at a news conference
at Lopez Lake, a reservoir in San Luis Obispo County formed by a dam
on the Arroyo Grande Creek that is currently at 34% capacity.
A historic drought linked to climate change
is gripping the United States' West, just a few years after California declared its last dry spell over in 2016. The previous drought depleted groundwater supplies and changed how people
used water, with many people and businesses ripping out landscaping and replacing it with drought-tolerant plants
Urban water usage in California is down 16% on average compared to before the previous drought, but scientists say this drought is already hotter and drier than the previous one, hastening the impact
on people and the environment
Because California has a Mediterranean climate, it does not get much rain
or snow until the winter, so the state relies on snowmelt in the mountains to fill reservoirs in the spring, which then provide water for farms, homes, and fish all year.
Large storms in January gave officials hope that there would be no water shortages this year, but the soil was so dry that instead of melting into runoff to fill rivers and reservoirs, much of the snow in the mountains melted into the ground.
“What we didn’t realize was that we had this deepening and intensifying drought underground,” Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said. “It really is the speed at which the compounding effects of climate change in soil moisture and ambient temperatures have made this drought a very different kind of drought; it’s no longer a slow-moving train wreck.”
Given how low California's reservoirs are already, Nemeth believes Newsom's request for people to use less water is about planning for next year. The Democratic governor
is asking for voluntary conservation efforts such as taking shorter showers, running dishwashers only when full, and reducing the frequency with which lawns are watered.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta
, said Newsom's response was "too little, too late." She said her organization and others warned the state to prepare for the drought at the end of 2020, and that state officials gave Newsom "bad advice."
“They took too much water out of the system for industrial agriculture users,” she said, adding that “our water resources and public trust resources, such as salmon fisheries, have been squandered for almonds and other unsustainable crops.”
Meanwhile, farmers have complained that their water allocations have been drastically reduced this year. According to Nemeth, the state released
water from Lake Oroville primarily to meet water quality requirements in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is formed by the two river systems that feed into the San Francisco
“We released more than we had planned because much of that water was diverted by other water users instead of making it to the delta,” she explained.
Some local governments have already imposed mandatory water restrictions, and Oregon
Gov. Kate Brown
this week directed state agencies to stop watering lawns, washing windows, and running fountains that do not recirculate water.
, a new law prohibits the use of nearly a third of the grass
in the Las Vegas
area, focusing on ornamental turf in places such as office parks and street medians, but not on single-family homes, parks, or golf
In California, Newsom added nine more counties to an emergency drought proclamation that now covers 50 of the state's 58 counties and 42% of the population.
The proclamation excludes large cities such as Los Angeles
, San Diego
, and San Francisco, but Newsom is still urging residents of densely populated areas to reduce their water consumption because they rely on rivers and reservoirs in drought-stricken areas for a large portion of their supply.
The counties named in the proclamation are eligible for a variety
of state actions, including the suspension of certain environmental regulations.
Inyo, Marin, Mono, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties have been added to the list.