California Eases Key Water Use Restrictions as Drought Conditions Improve

Posted: March 31, 2023 12:58 pm

While Californians are certainly longing for the sunny days that typically distinguish the state’s weather patterns, the recent parade of storms has nearly erased the drought conditions in the region. As a result, California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced that he is rolling back some of the Golden State’s drought restrictions.

What Restrictions Are Now Ending

Newsom signed an executive order last week, ending the mandate that local water agencies levy drought contingency plans to conserve water. This means that there are no more requirements for these agencies to limit outdoor irrigation to regulated hours or days. Agencies will no longer be required to patrol for water and enforce these restrictions.

The executive order also canceled Newsom’s 2021 plea to residents and businesses in the state to reduce water consumption by 15%. The order was largely seen as ineffective as water usage in urban areas actually increased by nearly 20% just a few months later.

The rollback of the restrictions was announced in the area of Dunnigan Hill in Yolo County. This site is significant as it is seen as a leader in harnessing rainwater to recharge groundwater aquifers to funnel moisture into the local farmland.

The Department of Water Resources also said that it will boost the amount of water deliveries to 75% of what was requested. This is a stark change from the originally announced amount of just 5%, translating to an extra 1.7 million acre feet of water spread out over the state’s 29 public water agencies. These agencies support 27 million Californians.

Newsom Still Urges Conservation

Although the rollbacks are certainly a promising sign that the state is finding its way out of this difficult period of drought, Newsom was careful to reiterate that they are “not out of the woods.” The governor reminded residents that they need to be diligent about smart and efficient water use.

While the numerous atmospheric rivers anchored over the state in the last few months have delivered significant amounts of moisture to the region, scientists are still estimating that California will see a loss of about 10% of its total water supplies over the next two decades. This is why Newsom continues to push for groundwater replenishment projects to capture water and recycle it wisely.

Newsom did not eliminate all drought measures with the recent announcement. For instance, there is still a ban on what the state deems as wasteful water use, including using it for ornamental grass on commercial properties.

The state of emergency is also still in effect for every county, allowing response and recovery efforts to remain in place.

Current State of the Drought

According to the Climate Prediction Center out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the drought conditions in California are expected to improve greatly in the coming months. Climatologists are particularly encouraged by the water levels in the state’s major reservoirs. For instance, levels in Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake are both sitting at historical averages thanks to the exceptionally wet winter.

The high water levels does not even include the upcoming snowpack melt. The Sierra Nevada experienced record-breaking amounts of snow this winter, expected to fill these reservoirs even further as the temperature begins to rise.

State officials said the reservoirs are up about 7.5 million acre feet when compared to the same time last year. The biggest challenge now will be harnessing all of the massive amounts of snowpack into the reservoirs due to a limited capacity of the rivers that flow into the large bodies of water.

The state has been aggressive in increasing its water supplies and storage. Government officials have invested about $8.6 billion in this effort designed to capture and retain the moisture when it falls in this great amount. The goal is to preserve this water for use during future droughts.

California has been ground zero in climate extremes over the last 10 years, vacillating between times of extreme drought and times of severe flooding. There is no doubt that the last few months have fallen on the wet side of the spectrum, helping to erase the drought that had been happening for the last few years. Scientists continue to point to climate change as the reason for these weather extremes.

The long-range forecast is predicting that the precipitation in California will let up once the calendar flips from March to April. A more typical climatological pattern will set up across the West at this time.

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