Governor Gavin Newsom today signed an executive order to protect the state’s water supplies from the impacts of climate-driven extremes in weather. After years of prolonged drought, recent storms resulted in the wettest three-week period on record in California. The storms have been followed by an unseasonably dry February, however, and the state could see a return to warm and dry conditions during the remaining weeks of the wet season – just as heavy rains in fall 2021 gave way to the driest January-February-March period in over 100 years.
While recent storms have helped replenish the state’s reservoirs and boosted snowpack, drought conditions continue to have significant impacts on communities with vulnerable water supplies, agriculture, and the environment. The latest science indicates that hotter and drier weather conditions could reduce California’s water supply by up to 10% by the year 2040.
The frequency of hydrologic extremes that is being experienced in California demonstrates the need to continually adapt to promote resiliency in a changing climate. To protect water supply and the environment given this new reality, and until it is clear what the remainder of the wet season will hold, the executive order includes provisions to protect water reserves, and replace and replenish the greater share of rain and snowfall that will be absorbed by thirstier soils, vegetation and the atmosphere.
The order helps expand the state’s capacity to capture storm runoff in wet years by facilitating groundwater recharge projects. It also continues conservation measures and allows the State Water Board to reevaluate requirements for reservoir releases and diversion limitations to maximize water supplies north and south of the Delta while protecting the environment. Additionally, the order directs state agencies to review and provide recommendations on the state’s drought response actions by the end of April, including the possibility of terminating specific emergency provisions that are no longer needed, once there is greater clarity about the hydrologic conditions this year.
The text of the executive order can be found here.
Leveraging the more than $8.6 billion committed by Governor Newsom and the Legislature in the last two budget cycles to build water resilience, the state is taking aggressive action to prepare for the impacts of climate-driven extremes in weather on the state’s water supplies. In the 2023-24 state budget, Governor Newsom is proposing an additional $202 million for flood protection and $125 million for drought related actions.