California Now Under Statewide Drought Emergency Amid Driest Year Since 1924

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has urged Californians to cut water use by 15%.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statewide drought emergency on Tuesday and called on residents to further conserve water amid one of the driest years since record keeping began.

“As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it’s critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible,” Newsom said in a statement.

California's worst drought since 1977 has affected the Salton Sea, California's largest inland lake and an area already in decline.
California's worst drought since 1977 has affected the Salton Sea, California's largest inland lake and an area already in decline.
Aude Guerrucci via Reuters

Most of the state’s counties had been under a drought emergency since July, but Tuesday’s proclamation added the few regions that were previously spared.

Newsom also encouraged Californians to reduce their water use by 15%, a goal first set several months ago, and empowered the state’s Water Resources Control Board to tackle wasteful water practices, like washing sidewalks and driveways or cleaning a car with a running hose.

State data shows that many areas have dramatically curbed water use amid the drought. E. Joaquin Esquivel, the chair of the state’s water board, told The Los Angeles Times that recent figures revealed declines in use that were “encouraging and heartening … but we need to continue to ensure we’re conserving.

Although storms are predicted for later this month which should bring rain and snow to parts of the state, recent reports show California would need 140% of its average annual precipitation to end the drought.

The state recently recorded its driest year in nearly a century. The California Department of Water Resources said this month that the 2021 water year — a period that ran from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021 — marked the least rainfall since 1924. Some areas, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, saw less than half of their average annual rainfall during that period.

“[E]xtreme conditions that once were rare are occurring with increased frequency,” the agency said. “California’s climate is transitioning to a warmer setting in which historical relationships among temperature, precipitation and runoff are changing.”

The ongoing drought will only increase the threat of punishing wildfires. California has been engulfed in massive, record-breaking blazes in recent years due to dry conditions. The Dixie fire, which started in July, is still burning in some areas. It is the largest single wildfire in state history.

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