Governor Gavin Newsom made a drought declaration on May 10 covering an additional 39 California counties. Less than three weeks ago, Newsom announced a drought emergency for just Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The expanded emergency declaration now includes Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and Tulare Lake Watershed counties. Newsom also announced a $5.1 billion drought response package to improve water resiliency over the next four years.
“By widening the drought emergency, the governor has recognized the reality facing much of rural California: Our future is not guaranteed,” California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said in a news release. “By proposing to invest in canal repairs and other projects, he has shown a willingness to address part of that longer-term problem, but where are the projects the voters invested in when they approved a water bond seven years ago?”
While stopping short of declaring a statewide emergency, Newsom’s announcement now brings a total of 41 counties under a drought state of emergency. The extended drought declaration covers counties that represent 30 percent of the state’s population. Under the order, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) will consider modifications for reservoir releases and diversion limitations. Greater flexibility will be added to regulatory requirements and procurement processes. The water transfer process will also be streamlined under the order. Additionally, the SWRCB will consider limiting water diversions and urge water right holders to prepare for potential shortages.
“While drought is not an unfamiliar foe to Californians, it should be acknowledged that this will be the first drought in the era of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), with the circumstances intensified and the solutions more complex,” California Fresh Fruit Association President Ian LeMay stated. “It is the hope of the Association that today’s announcement is a step to address California’s short and long-term water resiliency.”
Both the extended drought declaration and the drought response package are welcomed news to farmers. The spending package includes $300 million for SGMA implementation and $60 million for State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program grants. An additional $200 million will be used for water conveyance improvements and $150 million will address groundwater cleanup and water recycling projects.
“The realities of a changing climate mean California must prepare for longer, hotter droughts that can only be effectively mitigated through collaborative approaches that focuses equally on our state’s economic and environmental sustainability,” Westlands Water District general manager Tom Birmingham said in a press release. “We applaud Governor Newsom’s action to mitigate the impacts of a second year of drought in the Central Valley, which has already manifested itself in fallowed fields and lost jobs due to lack of water.”