There has been some criticism for how Governor Gavin Newsom has approached the state’s water situation, issuing a targeted drought declaration. Many areas of California are also experiencing drought conditions similar to Mendocino and Sonoma counties where the emergency declaration was made. California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Secretary Karen Ross told AgNet West the governor’s approach is influenced by what was learned from the last drought emergency in California. State officials feel better prepared for addressing drought conditions and will continue to monitor the situation closely in the event further action is needed.
“The governor made it very clear that this is structured in a way that if he has to add regions to that emergency declaration he will, based on the hydrology and the circumstances. Concurrently, the transfer process has been significantly streamlined and improved. But we’re always going to be working to improve that,” said Ross. “He also authorized the State Water Board to initiate emergency rulemaking to exercise the curtailment of water rights. That’s a big deal. People really did not want to see that on a statewide basis.”
As Newsom announced the targeted drought declaration invoking emergency response, he acknowledged that the entire state is indeed in the second year of a drought. Ross explained that the work that has been done on the water resiliency portfolio has been an important factor for emergency drought declarations this year. Some of the early actions taken this year have been in response to lessons learned from the previous California drought. Federal, state, and local agencies have been coordinating since the beginning of the year in preparation for dry conditions. While there is still potential for a statewide declaration, Ross indicated the decision would not be made lightly and is not necessarily a cure-all for water issues.
“When you think through the powers of an emergency order, you have to think about all the powers that that involves,” Ross noted. Even if a statewide emergency is declared “it won’t make any more water available for transfer, that’s very important to understand. I wish that it would, but that’s just the circumstance that we’re in.”