California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced the removal of some drought restrictions, while keeping other measures to bolster water supply for vulnerable communities and develop water resilience after a parade of atmospheric river storms pummeled the state and boosted water supply in recent months.
Against the backdrop of the Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County, where rainwater is being channeled onto acres of farmland to slowly recharge groundwater aquifers, Newsom signed an executive order that ends the requirement for local water agencies to implement drought contingency plans of limiting outdoor irrigation to certain days or hours, increasing patrols for water waste, enforcing water-use prohibitions, and putting forward urgent calls for people to conserve water.
Newsom is also rolling back his 2021 order, urging residents and businesses to cut back their water consumption use by 15%, even though urban water usage was actually up by 19% months later.
In concert with these rollbacks, the Department of Water Resources also announced it will increase the amount of water deliveries to 75% of requested water supplies this year — up from the initial plan of only 5% last year — as a result of the recent storms. This increase represents an additional 1.7 million acre feet of water for the 29 public water agencies serving 27 million Californians. (An acre-foot is the amount of water that would fill one acre a foot deep — roughly 326,000 gallons.)
Despite these announcements, the governor made clear that Californians must continue to use water wisely and efficiently.
“We’re not out of the woods,” Newsom said at a briefing on Friday. The last three years have been the driest such period on record in California, with the West as a whole suffering through the worst drought in at least 1,200 years. Last year, state scientists also predicted that California could lose 10% of its water supplies over the next 20 years.
“It’s incumbent upon us to continue to maintain our vigilance and maintain some provisions of the executive order to allow for fast tracking of groundwater replenishment projects, stormwater capture and recycling programs here in the state of California,” he added.
Other drought measures remain in place. With a hotter and drier future projected for California, Newsom is continuing the ban on wasteful water uses including watering ornamental grass on commercial grounds.
The governor is also maintaining a state of emergency for all 58 counties, so that emergency response and recovery efforts continue.
In addition, Newsom is preserving current emergency orders focused on groundwater, because while recent storms have increased water supply — with snowpack largely reaching a record high and reservoirs being replenished to normal levels — groundwater reserves are still having a hard time recovering.