Drought emergency declaration expanded to 41 Calif. counties

Low snowpack, early meltoff, and snow infiltration impact water supply

Less than three weeks after the California governor declared drought a state of emergency in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, on 10 May 2021 Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the drought emergency to include 41 of a total 58 counties.

The impact on about one-third (30%) of the state’s population prompted the executive to act amid “acute water supply shortages” in northern and central parts of the California – specifically within the Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and Tulare Lake watersheds. A further expansion is highly likely as dry and warm conditions worsen.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides approximately one-third of the state’s water, was at 59% of average on 1 April 2021. The date is significant since snowpack is usually at its maximum or peak level, and then it melts throughout the rest of the year to provide water resources downstream.

View of low water level on 10 May 2021 at San Luis Reservoir in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed | photo credit ANDREW KUHN, MERCEDSUN-STAR featured on San Luis Obispo dot com

In the background of the news conference was the San Luis Reservoir, “at less than 60% of its seasonal average as scarce winter rain and snow turns to a dry summer” reported the Associated Press.

Gov. Newsom noted that this year’s “extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May” already melted some of the Sierra Nevada snow bank. The snowmelt that entered northern California waterways is like an early withdrawal of water resources from state reserves, which are critically needed later in the year – to supply summer water use.

The state leader said that much snowmelt infiltrated the ground instead of flowing into rivers and reservoirs. Compounding the problem, early warming in spring increased water demand. Residents were drawing down water “more quickly than even in other drought years,” and “leaving reservoirs extremely low for farmers, fish and wildlife that depend on them.”

The overall reduction in the California water supply adds up to as much as 1 million households for 1 year.

The populace is used to calls for voluntary conservation. “Good habits have led to a 16% reduction in water usage” leaving the state “in relatively better shape than it was when the last five-year drought ended in 2017,” remarked Gov. Newsom. He urged residents to continue to limit water usage, whether outdoors or indoors.

California is hardly alone as the U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of the state and the American West is in extensive drought.