As California weathers yet another drought which is quickly emptying reservoirs throughout the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday asked residents and businesses to voluntarily cut back their water use by 15% in an effort to conserve water for farming, drinking and the environment.
While the conservation effort isn’t mandatory, it shows just how dire the situation is as summer heat continues and will worsen drought conditions into the fall. Temperatures throughout the state are high again this week as several fires blaze, including the River Fire in Mariposa County.
Reservoirs in California are at dangerously low levels and are likely to reach historic lows as the year continues. At the beginning of June, Turlock Irrigation District hydrologist Olivia Cramer explained that while Don Pedro may appear to have substantially more stored water than a majority of reservoirs in California, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the numbers.
At the time, Don Pedro sat at 64% capacity according to the Department of Water Resources, but realistically the reservoir was at about 27% capacity after accounting for dead storage water which is inaccessible, water bank, fish requirements and losses due to evaporation and percolation. As of Tuesday, DWR reported Don Pedro capacity had dropped to 60%, or 76% of the historical average.
The dry spell comes just several years after the state declared the last drought over in 2016 — one which depleted groundwater supplies and left farmers with little water to irrigate.
This year, farmers serviced by TID were given a 34-inch water cap allotment for irrigation, a decrease from last year’s 42-inch allotment. The reduction came during historically dry conditions and the second straight year of drought locally.
To determine how much water should be allotted to farmers this year, TID examined the most recent drought on record, which began in 2012 and lasted through 2016. In 2012, the Tuolumne River Watershed received 48% of the historical average in rainfall and growers were allotted 40 inches. In 2020, the irrigation cap was set at 42 inches following a 51% water year.
In order to decide how much irrigation water should be provided this season, TID looked at the 2013 allotment, which was also a second consecutive dry year like the region is currently experiencing. Since the current water year will end up with even less precipitation than the 2013 value of 59%, TID decided to mimic that year’s water cap of 34 inches.
“This is jaw-dropping, what's happening in the West Coast of the United States," Newsom said Thursday during a news conference at Lopez Lake in San Luis Obispo County, which is at 34% capacity.
Newsom on Thursday also added nine more counties to an emergency drought proclamation, which now covers 50 of the state's 58 counties and 42% of the state’s population. Counties included in the proclamation, including Stanislaus County, are eligible for various state actions, including suspension of some environmental regulations.
The newly added counties are Inyo, Marin, Mono, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Stanislaus County are currently experiencing extreme drought, the second-highest level of drought on the meter. For more information on the drought conditions, visit www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu. To see current reservoir conditions, visit https://water.ca.gov/Current-Conditions.