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Gavin Newsom Asks Residents to Cut Water Use Amid Drought

The California governor has asked residents to voluntarily cut their water use by 15 percent as a heat wave exacerbates the state’s drought conditions. Nearly every Bay Area county has enacted an emergency drought declaration.

(TNS) — As a heat wave exacerbates California's drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked residents Thursday to voluntarily cut their water use by 15 percent and extended an emergency drought declaration to nearly every Bay Area county.

Those measures were the latest in a series of modest steps Newsom has taken to encourage Californians to conserve and to make it easier for state regulators to curtail use for farmers and water agencies.

Newsom said urgent action is needed because conditions in the state "continue to devolve," with sparse rainfall and higher-than-normal temperatures — and a heat dome forecast to scorch the West Coast this weekend.

Nevertheless, the governor stressed there are no mandatory reductions in water use for individual customers, unlike the last drought, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown ordered people to conserve.

"Not here as nanny state, I'm not trying to be oppressive," Newsom said during a news conference along the receding banks of Lopez Lake in San Luis Obispo County, which is at about 34 percent capacity. "Again, these are voluntary standards."

Newsom signed an executive order urging people to voluntarily reduce their water use. He offered tips to help conserve: water lawns less often, take shorter showers and wait until dishwashers and washing machines are full before running a load.

The governor has come under pressure from legislators in both parties in recent months, who've argued he should have declared a statewide drought emergency months ago.

On Thursday, Newsom said his latest proclamation was driven by conditions on the ground. Three Bay Area counties were added to the list: Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin. Combined, eight of the region's nine counties are under drought declarations — with the lone exception of San Francisco.

Statewide, the proclamation means 50 of California's 58 counties are now in a drought emergency. The drought-designated counties include about 42 percent of the state's population.

California faces a gripping drought after two years of minimal rainfall. The state experienced its driest rainy season on record this year, with average statewide precipitation reaching 126-year lows, according to Golden Gate Weather Services.

During the rainy season, California got 11.46 inches of rainfall on average, about 49 percent of its normal amount of about 23.61 inches. So far, the delta watershed has been among the hardest-hit areas.

State regulators have already told thousands of farms and utilities that rely on flows from the vast Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta watershed to stop drawing water from rivers and creeks, an order that affects "junior" water rights holders, hitting many farmers the hardest.

California is facing a drought crisis just a few years after it emerged from the last one. Former Gov. Brown issued the last statewide drought declaration, in 2014, and kept it in place for three years.

Newsom's drought proclamation gives the state Water Resources Control Board, the agency charged with regulating state supplies, the power to more quickly curtail some users' rights to divert water from rivers if there is a shortage and allows state agencies to more easily transfer water for priority uses.

But Newsom's order doesn't mandate rationing. Local water districts will probably decide whether to set voluntary or mandatory restrictions on use for individual customers.

In the Bay Area, several districts are asking customers to conserve, including the Contra Costa and Santa Clara Valley water districts. The Marin Municipal Water District was the first to impose mandatory restrictions in April.

In Marin County, most residents will only be able to use their sprinklers on one assigned day a week, as per a rule passed by the district on Tuesday. Those who violate the rule can face a fine of up to $250. The decision was made out of concern that the district may run out of its reservoir supplies by next summer, according to the agency.

(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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