Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday declared a drought emergency in 39 additional counties, bringing the total to 41 and about 30% of the state’s population. The declaration includes counties along the Klamath River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Tulare Lake watershed.
“We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water,” said Newsom in a statement.
The proclamation directs the State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases to conserve water upstream for use later in the year. Officials also have new regulatory flexibility in expediting water transfers—an action many farmers have been calling for.
California Fresh Fruit Association President Ian LeMay called the expanded drought emergency "a step in the right direction to provide relief to California’s agricultural and rural communities.” LeMay said the circumstances of the drought have been intensified in the era of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham said the declaration will provide the tools needed to achieve a balance between water availability and the values behind the beneficial uses of water.Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse West
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson encouraged the governor to engage with family farmers at the local level to ensure they are able to survive the year.
“We appreciate any effort the state can make to provide more water in the short term to farmers who need it,” said Johansson. “At the same time, we must not lose sight of existing water-rights priorities and the need to balance supplies for food production, fisheries and cities.”
Newsom followed up the drought declaration with a $5.1 billion proposal for water infrastructure and drought response.
Within the package is a $200 million investment in repairs for canals, which gained immediate praise from Birmingham. Other provisions focus on safe drinking water, habitat restoration related to voluntary agreements, SGMA implementation, repurposing fallowed farmland, water efficiency projects for farmers and more.
Newsom said the budget package will help the state “secure vital and limited water supplies.” It is part of a $100 billion recovery plan the governor also announced, which includes nearly $12 billion for stimulus checks as well as tax rebates and rental assistance. The announcements offer a glimpse into the May Revision of the governor’s state budget proposal that is expected to be released in full on Friday, with teasers throughout the week.