Gavin Newsom at Lake Mendocino
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at parched Lake Mendocino. Courtesy of the Governor’s office

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday issued an expanded “drought emergency proclamation” for 41 of the state’s 58 counties, citing above-average temperatures and dry conditions for April and May.

So far, Southern California has been spared the worst of the drought, and the San Diego County Water Authority has said it has supplies to withstand several dry years.

“Gov. Newsom’s latest drought emergency declaration is a grim reminder of the growing water supply challenges across California — and of the value of three decades of our collective dedication to use water efficiently combined with strategic investments that protect San Diego County from dry years,” said Gary Croucher, board chair of the water authority.

“Thanks to efforts of ratepayers, the water authority, and our 24 member agencies, we have sufficient water supplies for 2021 and the foreseeable future,” he said.

Newsom, a first-term Democrat facing a recall election over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, directed the state’s water board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases and take other conservation measures.

The declaration also gives the state flexibility in regulatory requirements to mitigate drought impacts, which Newsom attributed in part to global climate change. 

“We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water,” Newsom said. 

The move was criticized by Save California Salmon, a wildlife protection group that accused Newsom of favoring big agriculture interests.

“Poor water management during the last drought led to 90% of the salmon dying and toxic algal blooms in cities’ water supplies,” Regina Chichizola, the group’s policy director, said in a statement.

“California’s antiquated water rights system leaves cities and the environment high and dry while almonds get clean water,” Chichizola said.

Newsom in April proclaimed a regional drought emergency in two Northern California counties. At the time, a key measure of snowfall in the state was about 40% below average. California depends on snow melt in the spring to replenish streams and reservoirs.