May 11, 2021
Several counties added to California drought emergency proclamation

On May 11, California Gov. Gavin Newsom significantly expanded his April 21 drought emergency proclamation to include the Klamath River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake Watershed counties, where accelerated action is needed to protect public health, safety and the environment.

In total, 41 counties are now under a drought state of emergency, representing 30% of the state’s population.

The declaration comes amid mounting pressure from lawmakers and growers in the Central Valley, who this year are receiving only 5% of their expected water allocations from the state. Growers say the sharp cutbacks in state and federal water supplies will mean they will suffer huge economic losses and be forced to fallow fields and sell off cattle.

According to a news release, climate change-induced early warm temperatures and extremely dry soils have further depleted the expected runoff water from the Sierra-Cascade snowpack, resulting in historic and unanticipated reductions in the amount of water flowing to major reservoirs, especially in Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake Watershed counties.

“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” said Newsom. “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.”

In April, Governor Newsom signed an emergency proclamation directing state agencies to take immediate action to bolster drought resilience across the state and declaring a State of Emergency in Mendocino and Sonoma counties due to severe drought conditions in the Russian River Watershed. Today, the Governor took action to ensure an expedited response to address acute drought impacts in Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake Watershed counties.

Today’s drought emergency proclamation adds the following 39 counties: Del Norte, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity, Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties. Additionally, the proclamation provides new authority for the existing drought emergency announced on April 21 for Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

Extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May separate this critically dry year from all others on California record. California experienced an accelerated rate of snow melt in the Sacramento, Feather and American River watersheds, which feed the major reservoirs of the state and federal water projects. This was exacerbated when much of the snowpack, sitting on very dry ground, seeped into the earth rather than flowing into our rivers and streams and into these reservoirs. Warming temperatures also prompted water diverters below the dams to withdraw their water much earlier and in greater volumes than typical even in other recent critically dry years. These factors reduced expected water supplies by more than 500,000 acre feet, enough to supply up to one million households with water for a year. The drastic reduction in water supplies means these reservoirs are extremely low for water users, including farmers, and fish and wildlife in the counties the drought proclamation covers.

The governor’s proclamation directs the State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases and diversion limitations to conserve water upstream later in the year to maintain water supply, improve water quality and protect cold water pools for salmon and steelhead. The state of emergency also enables flexibilities in regulatory requirements and procurement processes to mitigate drought impacts and directs state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water from one water right holder to another, enabling available water to flow where it is needed most.

The text of today’s emergency proclamation can be found here.

The governor’s executive action last month directed state agencies to partner with local water suppliers to promote conservation through the Save Our Water campaign, a critical resources for Californians during the 2012-2016 drought. Some municipalities have already adopted mandatory local water-saving requirements, and many more have called for voluntary water use reductions.

“It’s time for Californians to pull together once again to save water,” said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “All of us need to find every opportunity to save water where we can: limit outdoor watering, take shorter showers, turn off the water while brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Homeowners, municipalities, and water diverters can help by addressing leaks and other types of water loss, which can account for over 30 percent of water use in some areas.”

Actions by the administration to address drought to date include:

  • Identifying water suppliers at extreme financial risk that may need additional support due to the combined impacts of COVID and drought.
  • Updating the Department of Water Resources’ Dry Well website, which tracks voluntarily reported supply issues by counties.
  • Streamlining water transfer processes.
  • Issuing letters from the State Water Resources Control Board to water right holders, urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures.
  • Completing the state’s first drinking water needs assessment in which the State Water Board identified small water systems and domestic wells that are failing or at risk of failing to meet the state’s drinking water standards. By working toward solutions with these systems, we are improving their drought resiliency.

For more tips on saving water, visit

Learn more about current conditions, the state’s response and informational resources available to the public at the state’s new drought preparedness website.

WG urges caution in implementation of emergency drought proclamation

In response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s expansion of the emergency drought, Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia issued the following statement:

“Governor Newsom took a measured step in the right direction, but caution is needed in implementation of this proclamation. The declaration provides regulatory flexibility for water transfers to mitigate water shortages, and parallel executive action allocates $200 million to repair some damaged sections of key water delivery systems as proposed by Senator Hurtado’s Senate Bill 559. However, the emergency authority granted to the State Water Board to curtail water deliveries should give all water users pause.

“Water curtailments disproportionately impact rural and disadvantaged communities. During the last drought from 2014-2016, regulatory restrictions on water deliveries resulted in the fallowing of half a million acres of productive San Joaquin Valley farmland and cost farms nearly $4 billion in economic activity. With many South-of-Delta farmers slated to receive between zero and five percent of their water allocations, 2021 is shaping up to be another catastrophic year for rural farming communities in the Valley.

“In implementing the Governor’s proclamation, we urge state water officials to lead with voluntary transfers and curtailments, giving our smart and capable public and private water agencies the space they need to maximize limited water supplies and achieve balance between the environmental and economic needs of the state. Beyond the immediate crisis, state agencies must help mitigate the impacts of changing hydrology by removing the red tape that has long prevented meaningful investments in water storage infrastructure.”

California Farm Bureau seeks long-term investments

Actions in a widened drought emergency order issued today by Gov. Gavin Newsom will provide some short-term benefit through voluntary water transfers and exchanges in parts of drought-stricken California, the California Farm Bureau said, while the organization expressed concern about emergency powers granted to the state water board and re-emphasized the need for significant, long-term investments to secure future food production in the state.

“The pandemic has reinforced that farming is an essential business and the drought has reinforced that water is essential to farming,” California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said. “We appreciate any effort the state can make to provide more water in the short term to farmers who need it. 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.

“By widening the drought emergency, the governor has recognized the reality facing much of rural California: Our future is not guaranteed,” Johansson said. “By proposing to invest in canal repairs and other projects, he has shown a willingness to address part of that longer-term problem, but where are the projects the voters invested in when they approved a water bond seven years ago?

“Following a year of economic shutdown for our communities, record wildfires, blackouts on the state’s electrical grid and soaring home prices, it is apparent Californians face a quality-of-life issue. We hope this is a watershed moment in which we realize that building, not just planning, will preserve that way of life,” he said.

“In addition to longer-term infrastructure needs, we also need to ensure family farms – and the people, communities and businesses that rely on them—are able to survive this year. We urge the governor to engage with family farmers, at the local level, to understand how best to ensure that our farms and the food they produce will be available to Californians for years to come,” Johansson said.

“Water to farms means food for families, jobs for farm employees and much-needed help for rural economies,” he said. “With predictions that climate change will lead to even less certainty about precipitation and water supplies, California must commit to a full-scale program to increase storage, enhance efficiency and create new supplies through water recycling and desalination.”

Fresh fruit group supports action

The California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) commends yesterday’s drought proclamation from Governor Gavin Newsom announcing the addition of 39 California counties to be included as part of the April 21st emergency drought proclamation.

“The Sierra Nevada snowpack is at the second worst levels since 2002 and yesterday’s announcement is a step in the right direction to provide relief to California’s agricultural and rural communities,” said Ian LeMay, president. “The state is the top producing agricultural region in the world. But it cannot continue to survive without a reliable water resource. While drought is not an unfamiliar foe to Californians, it should be acknowledged that this will be the first drought in the era of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), with the circumstances intensified and the solutions more complex. It is the hope of the Association that yesterday’s announcement is a step to address California’s short and long-term water resiliency.”

With yesterday’s drought proclamation expansion, 41 California counties are now under a state of emergency. This represents 30 percent of the state’s population. The state will invest $5.1 billion in water resiliency and infrastructure efforts. These funds will provide conveyance flexibility for state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water right holders. CFFA looks forward to working on behalf of its membership to engage with state and federal officials to address California’s water needs.

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