Spotlight April 2021: Governor Proclaims Drought Emergency in Two Counties

  • by ACWA Staff
  • Apr 23, 2021
  • Newsletters

Lake Mendocino (at left) in February, 2019 and (at right) in January, 2021. Sonoma Water included these images in a newsletter to customers about water supply reservoirs reaching historic lows. Photos courtesy of Sonoma Water.

Gov. Newsom on April 21 proclaimed a drought emergency in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, noting the severe conditions in the Russian River Watershed. The proclamation helps agencies access important resources and provides the State Water Resources Control Board with authority to adopt emergency regulations to curtail water rights in the counties. It does not include conservation mandates.

Newsom announced the drought emergency during a press conference from Lake Mendocino, which is at a record low, noting that not all regions of the state are experiencing the same extreme conditions. He said a targeted, sequential approach was appropriate, and he would extend the order as needed. 

“Local public water agencies take dry year conditions very seriously and plan for and invest in local solutions to ensure preparedness for dry years. ACWA stands ready to work collaboratively with members, and in partnership with the state and federal governments to protect and maximize our available water supplies,” said Executive Director Dave Eggerton.

Throughout California, reactions and measures have varied by region, but most agencies share at least one thing in common: past experience has left them well prepared, and what California faces comes as no surprise. Water agencies have reached out to news media, customers and stakeholders during the past month as reports of dry conditions intensified, including responses to plans by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to lower water allocations in 2021. 

The below summaries are just a handful of examples of how ACWA members are reacting to the prospect of another drought, beginning with the current epicenter of the drought in the Russian River watershed.

Northern California Agencies Take Action

Marin Water and Sonoma Water stress that the region faces a historically dry period. In response, the boards of directors at both agencies have approved mandatory restrictions that target non-essential uses of water.

In a special edition of Sonoma Water E-news in April, the agency stated that Lake Mendocino is at 46% of the target supply curve and Lake Sonoma is at 63% of water supply capacity. Both reservoirs are at the lowest storage level for this time of year since they filled. 

Anticipating these conditions, Sonoma Water has worked closely with State Water Resources Control Board staff since last summer to develop a plan to manage reservoir releases, minimize instream flows and diversions by Russian River water users to prevent both reservoirs from reaching severely low storage levels. The agency has also shared details on the Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership, a regional collaboration that is launching a water saving campaign for customers.

Los Angeles Credits Increased Storage Capacity

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is working to educate the region’s residents that they can count on a reliable water supply thanks to their enduring conservation efforts and the district’s investments in storage and diverse supplies.

MWD acknowledged DWR’s cutting State Water Project (SWP) allocations to 5% of contracted amounts. That means MWD will likely receive less than one month’s usual supply of SWP water this year, which on average provides about 30% of Southern California’s water supply, MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger stated in a MWD news release.

MWD is managing through such volatility by taking advantage of wet years, like 2017 and 2019, to move as much water into storage as possible, according to the news release. The agency has increased its total storage capacity by 13 times since 1990, investing in surface and groundwater storage across the southwest.

Delayed Deliveries in Central Valley

Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham responded to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement that South-of-Delta agricultural repayment and water service contractors will have delayed access to their water allocation. The announcement preserves the 5% allocation for South-of-Delta agricultural repayment and water service contractors announced in February, but delays the contractors’ ability to access the water until a later date.

For Fresno Irrigation District (FID), drought conditions, so far, will result in its postponing the start date for 2021 agricultural water deliveries to June 1. July water deliveries remain uncertain and will depend on future hydrology, precipitation, and weather. 

FID continues to track updates from the Airborne Snow Observatories models, National Weather Service and DWR. DWR’s most recent runoff projection for the Kings River is 33% of average, which was downgraded from its March 23 projection of 40% of average.

Gold Country Feeling Impact

March produced only half of average high country precipitation, and Nevada Irrigation District (NID) is asking its customers to conserve water going into the warmer, drier spring. NID delivers water for agricultural irrigation and drinking water to customers in Nevada, Placer, and Yuba counties.

During NID’s snow survey taken March 30 and 31, district surveyors found the snow water equivalent (SWE) in the Sierra snowpack was 24.2 inches, which is 72% of the normal average of 33.5 inches for this time of year. The survey was taken at five high-elevation snow courses. That still compares favorably to measurements from DWR’s electronic snow survey stations, which indicate that statewide the snowpack’s SWE is 16.5 inches, or 59% of average for the date. April 1 is typically when California’s snowpack is the deepest and has the highest SWE.

NID’s nine major reservoirs are currently storing 182,606 acre-feet of water, which is 68% percent of capacity and 81% of average for this date.

Zone 7 Asking for Voluntary Water Use Cuts

Zone 7 in the San Francisco East Bay area issued a request earlier this month to its surrounding Tri-Valley community to voluntarily reduce water usage. The Tri-Valley has received just 5.44 inches of rainfall this water year (Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2021). The lowest water rainfall on record in one water year is 6.02 inches. At the same time, water stored in Lake Del Valle was at 78% of capacity with 31,000 acre-feet out of the possible 40,000 acre-feet.

“We have invested in water storage programs and will look to purchase additional water supplies for calendar year 2021, but these have significant costs,” stated Zone 7 General Manager Valerie Pryor in a news release.

The water conservation message is an ongoing priority for Zone 7 and its customers have responded in kind. The area has collectively cut water use over the last 10 years. During the last severe drought period, customers increased efforts to save more than 40% in 2014 alone. Based on that past response, Zone 7 is not currently considering mandatory conservation or restrictions.

Sacramento Region Ready to Address Grim Forecast

The Regional Water Authority represents cities, counties, water providers and stakeholders in the Sacramento area. It recently announced actions to reduce local reliance on Folsom Reservoir, protect the health of the Lower American River and continue to serve area communities. 

During the next few months, actions will include:

Using more groundwater. During the past several decades, local water providers worked together to strategically shift the region’s water use to surface water or groundwater according to availability. This approach was successful during the most recent drought, when the Sacramento region used more groundwater than typical in order to leave more in our waterways for fish and wildlife. 

Sharing water around the region: Since the last drought, water providers have invested in nearly 20 projects, such as new pipelines, interties, pumps and groundwater wells, to move water where it’s needed. This system is ready to assist the communities most directly impacted by lower levels at Folsom.

Asking customers to use water efficiently no matter the weather. During the last drought, local residents reached some of the state’s highest conservation rates and ultimately contributed 12% of the state’s total water savings, even with only 5% of its population.

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