SACRAMENTO, California – Drought-stricken California is facing another year of drought and pleading for conservation as winter ends with something expected of rain and snow.
A wet December that threw snow on the mountains raised hopes in early 2022, but the state could end this month, the driest January to March in at least a century. State water officials are preparing to tell major urban and agricultural water agencies on Friday that they will receive less water from the state supply than the small amount promised at the start of the year, and that large reservoirs will be well below their normal levels.
Meanwhile, California’s water use increased in January, despite calls for conservation. Governor. Gavin News has stopped short of mandatory water-use cutbacks, but its natural resources secretary Wade Croft recently said local or regional governments could issue their own orders.
“The more intelligent we are at using water now, the more sustainable we will be if the drought continues,” he told a news conference in Sacramento last week, urging people to save water. He added: “Water is a valuable resource, especially in the American West, and we need to move away from wasteful practices.”
California is facing its second severe drought in less than a decade, and scientists say the U.S. West is facing its worst major drought in 1,200 years, exacerbated by climate change. People adjusted their water use during the last drought, partially tearing down sprinkler-hungry lawns and replacing them with drought-resistant landscapes, and many of those water conservation practices got stuck.
But arid conditions starting in 2020 are demanding more conservation, as reservoirs such as Auroville Lake and Shasta Lake remain below historic levels, and less water is expected to flow down the mountain this spring as the snow melts. Alan Haynes, a hydrologist in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Nevada River Forecast Center in California, says current forecasts suggest the state will see about 57% of the historic intermediate runoff between April and July this year.
“If we did not have what we had in December. We will probably have more serious problems, “he said.
Persistent lack of water can lead to various negative consequences, including loss of farmland and death of endangered salmon and other fish.
The state water project supplies water through a complex system of canals, dams and other infrastructure that serves 27 million people and 750,000 acres (303,514 hectares) of farmland. State contractors have a certain amount of water that they can request from the state and the state determines through the winter how much they will receive based on the supply.
In December, before the big snowfall, state officials told the contractor that they would get nothing but what they needed for immediate health and safety, such as drinking and bathing. The state raised it to 15% in January. Water Resources Director Carla Nemeth said on Tuesday that the percentage would decrease again, but did not say how much.
“What are our plans for surviving a long drought?” No one knows, and I don’t think we’re getting the miracle we’re hoping for, “said Jennifer Pierre, general manager of State Water Contractors, which represents companies that rely on state supplies.
He said the state needs to plan for more droughts in the future by spending money on line canals to protect against water damage, improve groundwater basins and provide more financial incentives for people to make their properties more drought-friendly. Plans to expand the state’s water storage received a boost Thursday when the federal government indicated it would provide a 2.2 billion loan to help build a new reservoir.
But critics of California’s water policy say the big problem is more than the state promises each year. This has led to a steady decline in supply to federal and state-run reservoirs, said Doug Obegi, an attorney focusing on water for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“We basically have a system that has gone bankrupt because we promised that there was a lot more water than could actually be supplied,” he said.
Obegi also took up the issue with the state’s plan to eliminate specific water quality requirements in the Delta, part of the state’s reservoirs where freshwater rivers and saltwater seas meet. Water quality standards are designed, in part, to ensure that water is not salty and cannot be used for cultivation, drinking and environmental protection.
“My hope is that this drought is a wake-up call that we are not really ready and we have no plans for the drought,” he said.