California water regulators brace for another dry winter

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California reservoirs are so low due to a historic drought that regulators warned on Thursday that state water agencies may not get anything from them l next year, a frightening possibility that could force mandatory restrictions on residents.

California has a system of giant lakes called reservoirs that store water during the state’s rainy and snowy winter months. Most of the water comes from the snow that melts in the Sierra Nevada mountains and fills rivers and streams in the spring.

Regulators then release the water during the dry summer months for consumption, agriculture and the environment, including keeping streams cold enough for endangered salmon species to spawn. .

This year, unusually hot and dry conditions caused nearly 80% of this water to evaporate or absorb into the parched soil. It surprised state officials as California now enters the rainy season with reservoirs at their lowest level.

“Nothing in our historical records has suggested the possibility that this snow essentially disappears into the soils and the atmosphere at the level where it did,” California Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot said. “These climate changes are happening fast and furiously. “

California’s “year of water” runs from October 1 to September 30. The year 2021 ends Thursday, and it was the second driest year on record, according to the Water Resources Ministry. California experienced its hottest monthly average temperatures on record across the state in October, June and July, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Environmental Information Centers.

The year of water 2021 has started with reservoirs at 93% capacity. But California won’t have that cushion this year. The state’s reservoirs are at 60% of their historical average, state officials said.

It is impossible to predict with precision how much rain and snow California will receive this winter. But if it’s like the last two winters, there will be even bigger problems.

“We are collecting information from the agencies to which we supply water on their human health and safety needs in the event that they do not receive any allocation from the State Water Project,” said Karla Nemeth, Director of the Resources Department. in water.

A spokesperson for the State Association of Water Agencies said they could not comment on Thursday because their executive director was away and unavailable.

Despite the severity of the drought, Governor Gavin Newsom has not declared a state-wide state of emergency. Instead, he declared emergencies in 50 of the state’s 58 counties, an approach according to his administration based on lessons learned from the most recent drought when the state imposed restrictions on the state. statewide.

“(The water agencies) explained to us that one size fits all of Sacramento’s mandates sometimes has unintended consequences,” Crowfoot said.

Yet California’s water supplies are in poor condition as the rainy season approaches. In July, Newsom asked everyone to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 15%. But in the first three weeks following this request, Californians reduced their water use by just 1.8%, state officials said.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Crowfoot said mandatory water restrictions “must be on the table.” But he said those restrictions are unlikely to come until state officials have a better idea of ​​how much water the state will receive this winter.

“This winter will be pivotal in the further steps we need to take on conservation,” said Crowfoot. “We are going to watch.”

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