Governor Gavin Newsom went to Lake Mendocino on Wednesday to make an announcement on the state's first effort to address the current drought — and it's starting with a "targeted" drought emergency declaration for two NorCal counties.
Marin County's water district already announced its own emergency on Tuesday, and said that mandatory water-use restrictions will be coming for about two-thirds of county residents beginning on May 1. But as happened in 2015/2016, this drought is all but guaranteed to become a statewide emergency, with restrictions eventually coming down from the governor's office.
There aren't any mandatory restrictions just yet, however. Newsom said at the press conference that the state was declaring "a drought conditions state of emergency" for Mendocino and Sonoma counties only, but he didn't elaborate on what may be to come from that declaration.
"I’m standing currently 40 feet under water, or should be standing 40 feet under water save for this rather historic moment," Newsom said, standing in the dry lake bed of Lake Mendocino. "This is climate change."
The water level in the lake is currently at 43% of capacity.
Newsom said the entire state was dealing with below-normal rainfall for this "rain year," but the first step is addressing the area of the Russian River watershed and just these two counties. As the Chronicle reports, Newsom signed an executive order which for now simply limits the ability of some users' to divert water from the Russian River, in order to preserve supply for water districts that depend on the river — including those that serve the cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, and Ukiah.
Here in Lake Mendocino, we should be 40 ft. underwater but it’s dry. This is climate change.— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) April 21, 2021
Today, we declared a drought conditions state of emergency in Mendocino & Sonoma counties & announced actions to immediately increase drought resilience & prepare for drought conditions. pic.twitter.com/PzJLgK1RTj
State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) spoke at the press event as well, and said, "Lake Mendocino is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to California’s drought. The alarm is sounding and it couldn’t be louder."
A statewide emergency order, and one that will come with politically unpopular water-use restrictions, seems inevitable — but maybe Newsom wants to put that off as long as possible given the whole recall situation?
"We’re taking a targeted approach," Newsom said. "We’re taking an approach based upon actual conditions on the ground. But right now, we’re not prepared to advance a statewide order."
Former Governor Jerry Brown issued the last drought emergency declaration back in 2014, as the Chronicle notes, and didn't lift until three years later, when the state was flush with El Nino rains in spring of 2017. The entire period of 2012 to 2016 is considered a multi-year drought, and that was the second so far in the 21st Century, with the first from 2007 to 2009.
Water officials have been sounding alarm bells since back in March, after a historically dry February. Lake Oroville, the state's second larges reservoir, was at 39% of capacity at the time.
And the past two years have seen significantly below-average rainfall in Mendocino and Sonoma in particular. As Jeanine Jones, the state's drought manager with the California Department of Water Resources, tells SFGate, "Mother Nature was not kind to that area for two years in a row." But she added that there are many places around the state where water reserves may be lower than normal, but emergency declarations aren't needed right now.
A storm promises to drench the Bay Area a bit this Sunday and Monday, but it portends to be the last storm of the "rain year," or at least one of the last, barring some late-season anomalies.