Gavin Newsom calls on Californians to cut water use by 15%, expands drought emergency

Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded his drought emergency declaration Thursday and called on Californians to reduce water consumption by 15%.

In a pair of emergency orders issued during an appearance at parched Lopez Lake near San Luis Obispo, the governor added nine more counties to the list of those covered by his emergency declaration from two months ago. That makes the drought official in 50 of the state’s 58 counties — essentially, everywhere except San Francisco and urban Southern California.

The counties added to the list: San Luis Obispo, Inyo, Marin, Mono, Monterey, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. Extending the emergency to a broader area makes it easier for the State Water Resources Control Board to cut off water rights to farmers who pull water from rivers and streams.

The orders represent the broadest acknowledgment yet of the severity and widening footprint of the drought. But Newsom, who is facing a recall election in September, again refused to impose mandatory cutbacks, instead urging Californians to reduce their outdoor watering by one day a week, running dishwashers and laundry machines less frequently and taking other steps to save.

“Keeping showers under five minutes can save 12.5 gallons per shower when using a water-efficient showerhead,” his order read in part.

Speaking to reporters at Lopez Lake, which is about one third full, the governor said Californians are getting the message about the need to conserve.

“We are encouraging people to do common-sense things,” he said, adding that his plea isn’t reflective of a “nanny state.”

“We’re not trying to be oppressive,” he said.

Heather Cooley, research director at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland water-policy think tank, said voluntary pleas can be effective at getting people to conserve, up to a point.

“Voluntary calls are a way to communicate with the public about how serious this is,” Cooley said. If conditions worsen, “it is a first step towards mandatory.”

Newsom said Californians have been using about 16% less water than they did in 2013, before the start of the previous drought. Sacramento residents’ consumption is down about 25% in the same time frame, said Carlos Eliason, a spokesman for the city of Sacramento.

NEW FUNDING FOR WATER AND DROUGHT-RELATED PROJECTS

Newsom’s predecessor Jerry Brown instituted 25% mandatory cutbacks on urban Californians in 2015, during the last drought — after his call for voluntary reductions fell well short of the goal he’d set a year earlier. Newsom and his top water advisors have said they could impose mandatory restrictions if California suffers through another dry winter.

The governor’s call for 15% conservation exceeds the pleas issued by some urban areas. This week the city of Sacramento asked residents to scale back consumption 10% this week, as did the Contra Costa Water District.

Many cities already have some restrictions on outdoor watering, rules left over from the last drought. The city of Sacramento limits watering to two days a week; much of Sacramento County is limited to three days a week.

In his new executive orders, Newsom directed state agencies to “identify unspent funds that can be repurposed to enable projects to address drought impacts to people, ecosystems and economic activities.”

The Legislature has already approved about $2.4 billion in new funding for water and drought-related projects, and lawmakers are talking with the governor’s office about proposals to add $2 billion more to the budget.

After signing the new emergency orders, Newsom blasted “science deniers” and said climate change is exacerbating water shortages and heat waves.

“This is jaw dropping, what’s happening across the Western United States,” he said. Temperatures are expected to reach 115 degrees this weekend in parts of the Central Valley.

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