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Drought in Russian River Watershed declared state of emergency

April 22, 2021

Severely dry conditions in the northern California counties spurred the 21 April 2021 state of emergency proclamation by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The event sets in action a procedure to help local agencies access important resources. In addition, the State Water Resources Control Board (or the Waterboards) with “authority to adopt emergency regulations to curtail water rights in the counties.”

Although other parts of the state are experiencing dry conditions, not all regions are facing such extremes. The governor commented that a “targeted, sequential approach was appropriate.” In this matter, the executive does not support a “one-size-fits-all” policy.

During the press conference one day ahead of Earth Day, state agencies were directed to “take immediate action to bolster drought resilience and prepare for impacts on communities, businesses and ecosystems.”

Gov. Newsom recognized the progress toward climate resilience made during California’s most recent drought.

Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot and State Water Board Chair Joaquin Esquivel commended important partnerships Sonoma Water Agency has formed to address consistently low levels of water at Lake Mendocino.

They noted the county’s collaboration with the federal agency U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and researchers at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) within Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California at San Diego. Additional partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), and California Department of Water Resources. In February, a multi-agency report documented beneficial findings from the Sonoma implementation of Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO).

Local water agencies in Central California are also using weather forecasts to inform dam operations to support decisions in regard to water storage and hydropower generation. Merced Irrigation District (MID) takes extreme wet and dry year conditions seriously. About five years ago, the district received USBR grant funding to plan for and invest in the MIDH2O Hydrologic and Hydraulic Optimization Model and (computing) platform to adjust to climate impacts and mitigate uncertainty. MID continues to work with USACE and technology partners at Resource Management Associates (RMA) and KISTERS to refine the HEC models and ensure the integration of data sources like ground-based monitoring networks and satellite snow observations.