Gov. Gavin Newsom hosted a press conference Friday at an on-farm groundwater recharge project in Yolo County to announce that State Water Project allocations will more than double to 75%.
The enormous leap from a 35% allocation shows how far the state has come in one month after 13 atmospheric rivers have saturated the state and burst levees. Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in the state system, was dumping water at high rates last week to prevent the dam from overtopping as more storms delivered precipitation.
The Bureau of Reclamation has yet to update allocations for the Central Valley Project. But the agency followed the state’s lead last month in matching south-of-Delta allocations at 35% and will likely amend them again in the coming days.
Newsom also pulled back parts of his emergency drought declaration, though he did not rescind the order entirely. He noted that despite the record snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Klamath and Colorado River basins are still struggling with long-term drought impacts and some disadvantaged communities still rely on bottled water deliveries as drinking wells remain dry.
He canceled his call for Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 15%, noting the state has exceeded that amount at times and was already using 17% less water following the 2012-16 drought. He also rescinded a declaration for a Level 2 water shortage, meaning local water districts no longer have to implement their emergency drought management plans.
The executive order Newsom signed on Friday retains provisions that prohibit watering decorative landscapes and practices like hosing off driveways.
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The actions follow a separate order last week easing some restrictions for groundwater recharge, as state, federal and local agencies race to limit flooding from snowmelt in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
Newsom reasoned that California needs to be “more nimble and more flexible” to respond to the changing weather conditions as it builds a “deeper understanding for Mother Nature and her water capacity.”
Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said the weather whiplash “demonstrates that in times of plenty, we need to move as much water into storage as is feasible.”
“We’ve been able to manage the system to the benefit of communities, agriculture and the environment,” she said in a statement. “It’s certainly been a welcome improvement following the three driest years on record for California.”
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