As California stretches into its third year of drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom is warning local officials that more needs to be done to save water, and to make sure all residents realize how urgent the crisis is.
If not, Newsom said, Californians could face mandatory statewide water restrictions this summer.
Newsom met with the leaders of the largest urban water suppliers on Monday and implored that they “take more aggressive actions to combat drought and better engage their customers to ensure all Californians are doing their part to save water.”
The West's megadrought
Despite reservoirs dropping to critically low levels – the largest ones currently at half of their historical averages, the state said – the data shows the majority of Californians aren’t conserving enough.
In July 2021, Newsom announced a drought emergency, calling on residents and businesses to voluntarily cut their water usage by 15%. Yet in March, not only was the target not met, but urban water usage rose by 19% from March 2020 – the highest March water consumption since 2015, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.
Newsom said the water suppliers previously asked for more flexibility when responding to droughts based on regional needs and supplies – a localized method he said he supported as long as the conservation efforts improved.
But now he’s expressing concern that approach might not be enough.
“Every water agency across the state needs to take more aggressive actions to communicate about the drought emergency and implement conservation measure,” Newsom said in a statement. “Californians made significant changes since the last drought but we have seen an uptick in water use, especially as we enter the summer months. We all have to be more thoughtful about how to make every drop count.”
Advocates have previously told CNN that government officials should focus less on residential water cuts and instead mandate them for the businesses and industries that use the most water.
Jessica Gable, a spokesperson for Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group aimed at corporate and government accountability, told CNN that “there has been no effort to curtail the industries that are using the most water, which are coincidentally the industries that are also sending out the most emissions that are fueling the climate crisis.”
Scientists found earlier this year that the West’s current megadrought is the worst in 1,200 years, and the climate crisis has made it 72% worse.
On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board will vote on a statewide ban of watering nonfunctional turf – such as lawns that serve no purpose – in the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors, and on regulations that would mandate local agencies to implement water use restrictions in all urban areas statewide “amid the possibility that water supplies may be up to 20% lower due to extreme weather.”
Newsom will meet with agency leaders again in the next two months for an update. He also asked that the agencies submit water use data more often as a way to measure if the state is meeting its water conservation goals.