California cuts supply to water agencies due to drought

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Urban water users and farmers in California who depend on supplies from state reservoirs will receive less than expected this year as fears of a third straight dry year come true, officials said Friday. state officials.

Water agencies that serve 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland will get just 5% of what they requested this year from state supplies beyond what is needed for essential activities such as drinking and bathing.

That’s down from the 15% allocation state officials announced in January, after a wet December fueled hopes of an easing drought.

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But a wet winter hasn’t materialized and unless several inches of rain fall this month, the January through March period will be the driest start to a California year in at least a century.

In this August 22, 2021, file photo, a family walks on cracked mud near the shore of Lake Oroville as water levels remain low due to persistent drought conditions in Oroville, California. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope, File)

“We are getting whiplash from climate change in real time with extreme fluctuations between wet and dry conditions. This means rapid adjustment based on data and science,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the Department of Resources California Water, in a statement announcing the reduction.

The state water supply is not the only source for many California water agencies. But the minimum allowance means calls for conservation are likely to continue, with state and local authorities urging people to take shorter showers, pack washing machines and dishwashers full and use less water on lawns and washing cars.

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Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, recently announced an $8.25 million public awareness campaign designed to encourage people to be more mindful of their water use.

So far, Californians have failed to respond to Newsom’s call for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use from 2020.

Water consumption in January increased by 2.6% compared to the same month in 2020, in a dry climate and hot temperatures.

California drought

California Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot calls for water conservation during a press conference in Sacramento, California on March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Newsom’s administration has not imposed mandatory cuts, as former Gov. Jerry Brown did during the state’s last drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016.

But California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot recently said local or regional governments could issue their own water use reduction orders.

“Water is a precious resource, especially in the American West, and we need to move away from clearly wasteful practices,” he said.

California is experiencing its second acute drought in less than a decade, and scientists say the western United States is seeing the worst overall mega-drought in 1,200 years, made more intense by climate change.

People adapted their water use during the state’s last drought, in part by tearing up sprinkler-hungry lawns and replacing them with drought-tolerant landscaping. Many of those water-saving habits have stuck.

But the dry conditions that have returned in 2020 demand more conservation, as reservoirs such as Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta remain below historic levels and less water from snowmelt is expected to run off the mountains this spring. .

Gavin Newsom

Governor Gavin Newsom removes his mask before speaking at a press conference at the Native American Health Center in Oakland, California on December 22, 2021. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Current forecasts estimate the state will have about 57% of its historic median runoff from April through July, said Alan Haynes, hydrologist in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Nevada River Forecast Center.

A persistent lack of water can lead to a series of negative consequences, including the fallowing of fields by farmers and the death of salmon and other endangered fish.

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Water providers who rely on state supply have a certain amount of water they can request from the state, and the state decides throughout the winter how much it needs. ‘they will get depending on the supply.

In December, before the heavy snowfall, state officials told water providers they would get nothing beyond what was needed for immediate health and safety, such as drinking and drinking. wash. The state increased that figure to 15% of supplies requested in January.

“What’s our plan here to survive what could be a very long drought? Nobody knows, and I don’t think we’re getting the miraculous walk we were hoping for,” said Jennifer Pierre, chief executive of State Water Contractors. . , which represents agencies that depend on state procurement.

She said the state needs to plan for future droughts by spending money to line canals so they don’t leak and protect against water loss, improve groundwater basins and provide more water. financial incentives for people to make their properties more drought-tolerant.

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Critics of California’s water policy say the biggest problem is that the state promises more water each year than it has to deliver. This has led to a continued decline in supply to federally and state-run reservoirs, said Doug Obegi, a water attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We basically have a system that’s basically bankrupt because we’ve promised so much more water than can be delivered,” he said.

On Friday, officials also announced a plan to seek a temporary exemption from water quality requirements in the Northern California Delta, the part of the state’s watershed where California’s rivers meet. fresh water and salt water from the ocean.

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This would allow state and federal water projects to discharge less water into the delta from the Shasta, Folsom and Oroville Reservoirs, which are the state’s main water supplies.

Water quality standards are designed, in part, to ensure that water does not become so salty that it cannot be used for agriculture, drinking and environmental protection.

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