Far from being rescued from drought by recent storms, the state needs to prepare for a “new normal” of restricted water supplies, California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said Tuesday, Oct. 26.
To do that, Crowfoot said California must accelerate conservation efforts to deal with current drought conditions and continue to build on long-term water-management strategies, such as the $5.2 billion Water and Drought Resilience Package announced in September by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Crowfoot made his case to the executive committee of the Metropolitan Water District, which manages Southern California’s water imports from the Colorado River and Northern California.
“We’re all put in a very good mood by the large storms that came over parts of California over the weekend,” Crowfoot said at the virtual meeting. But he added that the heavy rains were hardly enough to emerge from current drought: “We would need several more record-breaking storms like this over the winter.”
While Southern California’s recent rain was modest, communities from Sacramento to the Oregon border saw between 4 inches and 10 inches during a 24-hour period that began early Sunday. While that led to some flooding, it also boosted water supplies. Preliminary reports indicated that the water level of Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir, increased 15 feet or more.
But the state still has a lot of catching up to do, thanks in part to the past year having been the second driest on record. Even after the recent drenching, Lake Oroville remains at just 27% of capacity.
“We are only in the second year of the drought, but the impacts are what we would’ve seen in the fourth or fifth year a few years ago,” Crowfoot said. “Conservation is trending in the right direction, but we need to step it up.”
Conservation efforts led to a 16% drop in statewide water consumption in 2020 from 2013 levels, according to governor’s office. However, since July, when Newsom called for a voluntary reduction of an additional 15%, results have been modest.
In August, home water use statewide was 5% less than it was a year earlier, according to state data analysis by CalMatters. The hard-hit North Coast led the way with an 18% reduction, while the region that includes Los Angeles, Orange San Diego and Ventura counties cut water use by just 3%.
Crowfoot, who praised Southern California as a leader in conservation, water recycling and storm water capture efforts, called on local water agencies to step up public outreach, though he acknowledged that each agency faces different circumstances. He noted that Newsom’s Oct. 19 declaration of a statewide drought emergency — which added Southern California to his earlier drought declarations — activated local agencies’ drought contingency plans.
“The governor is very clear that before we consider any mandatory reductions, we let the local agencies take the action they see as appropriate,” he said.
Crowfoot also said an end to the current drought would not mean an end to the long-term issue.
“We know that the drought before us is the new normal. And we should be preparing not just for today, but for what we will face tomorrow,” he said.
The gubernatorial appointee highlighted some of Newsom’s drought initiatives, including infrastructure upgrades, increasing river flows and restoring habitat. He noted that under Newsom, the state is trying to cut bureaucracy involved with restoration projects.
“It takes too long and costs too much to restore habitat,” he said.
That state also is working to ease traditional water conflicts, Crowfoot added, referencing conflicts that pit north vs. south, fish vs. farm and the coast vs. inland.
But the meeting with Metropolitan Water District directors was an immediate indication that those conflicts continue to be very real.
Director Heather Repenning, who represents to the city of Los Angeles, took aim at water consumption by the almond industry.
“It’s not a secret that some corporations are increasing their crops,” she said.
Crowfoot tried to smooth over that conflict, saying Central Valley farmers are engaged in groundwater sustainability programs and some farmers are using less water. He also noted that 4.5 million people in the region depend on agriculture.
“I do think there is constructive work happening across agriculture,” he said.
Source: Orange County Register