Yesterday at noon, California State Governor Gavin Newsom stood on the parched lake bed of Mendocino County’s primary water reservoir, Lake Mendocino, and declared a drought emergency in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties.
The proclamation Governor Gavin Newsom signed yesterday designed to ease Mendocino and Sonoma County’s acute drought impacts include directing the State Water Board to modify requirements for reservoir release or diversion limitations to ensure adequate supply.
In anticipation of the water shortage, Sonoma Water’s general manager Grant Davis said state regulators have informed approximately 700 vineyards, residential suppliers, and farmers, and others with water rights to the Russian River they could have their water reduced in the months ahead.
Governor Newsom, while standing on the cracked earth, said California’s drought strategy will be targeted to address regions hardest hit by the situation and designed to recognize the “unique characteristics that exist and persist throughout the state.”
Governor Newsom made clear that Mendocino and Sonoma Counties are the first in the state where targeted solutions would be implemented but “other counties can be added to the list as deemed necessary.”
In his address, Governor Newsom pointed out the ground he was standing on should be “40 feet under the water of Lake Mendocino save for this rather historic moment.” Recognizing the phrase “historic moment” is somewhat overused, he grounded the characterization in the stark fact Lake Mendocino is at 43% capacity for this year. Lake Sonoma, the other water reservoir within the Russian River watershed, is at 62% capacity.
Wade Crowfoot, the Secretary of the California Natural Resource Agency, explained that the Russian River watershed is uniquely vulnerable to drought due to the region’s geographic isolation from other state watersheds. He went on to say that this isolation means the watershed relies solely on precipitation to replenish.
Speaking historically, Governor Newsom noted, “Droughts are not unique to California. It is part of this Mediterranean state that we live in. What is different now are the extremes.” Those extremes, Governor Newsom claimed, were generated by climate change, a contributing factor in California’s two-year drought stating, “Climate change is intensifying both the frequency and the severity of dry periods. This ‘new normal’ gives urgency to building drought resilience in regions across the state and preparing for what may be a prolonged drought at our doorstep,” Governor Newsom said.
Governor Newsom explained that 77% of the West is in what scientists call a megadrought For historical comparison, Governor Newsom harkened back to May 2013 when California was governed by Jerry Brown. In that month, Governor Brown initiated emergency drought measures throughout the state to address what was at that time a two-year drought.
Governor Newsom insisted his administration’s approach to the drought was not “ideological” but instead “pragmatic” saying “we’ll accommodate needs based on the facts on the ground.”
When asked by a reporter whether mandates will be proposed to address the water shortages, Governor Newsom said his administration was not anticipating mandates, but he said, “We are gaming everything out. I am not prepared to announce those.” He emphasized that “We are prepared and have announced a declaration of preparedness.”
Joaquin Esquival, Chairman of the California Water Boards, explained the difficulty in managing drought and reminded Californians that “it is Mother Nature herself that is curtailing us.” He encouraged local leaders to take quick action and emphasize making water conservation decisions based on human health.
2nd California District Assemblyman Jim Wood predicted Mendocino and Sonoma County’s water situation could foretell the future of water up and down California, “As devastating as the ground is here, this is emblematic of what you are going to see for farms, businesses, personal water and throughout the state,” he told those in attendance.
Mike McGuire, 2nd California Senate District Representative, said that “Lake Mendocino is the canary in the coal mine for California’s drought. The alarm is sounding and it couldn’t be louder.”
In light of the drought, the State of California has made resources available to the public to assist in monitoring the state’s water crisis including: