After five years of historically dry conditions that have devastated communities, agricultural production and the environmental habitats of fish and other animals up and down the state, Gov. Jerry Brown finally announced the end of the drought on Friday - for most of California.
"The drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner," said Brown. "Conservation must remain a way of life."
Brown credited unprecedented water conservation and plentiful winter rain and snow with the issuance of Executive Order B-40-17, which effectively lifted the drought state of emergency in all California counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where drought emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies. Friday's order also revoked the emergency proclamation from January 2014, which declared the drought state of emergency during what was the driest year in recorded state history, and April 2014, which called on all California to redouble their efforts to conserve water, as well as four drought-related executive orders from 2014 and 2015.
This latest executive order also builds on Executive Order B-37-16, which was issued in May 2016 and still remains in effect, to establish long-term water conservation measures in order to make water conservation a way of life in California.
In an effort to achieve this goal, a number of state agencies, including the California Department of Water Resources, the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Public Utilities Commission, and the State Water Resources Control Board released a long-term plan to better prepare the state for future droughts and promote long-term efficient water use. The plan establishes a framework for long-term efficient water use that reflects the state's diverse climate, landscape and demographic conditions.
"This framework is about converting Californians' response to the drought into an abiding ethic," said California Department of Water Resources Acting Director Bill Croyle. "Technically the drought is over, but this framework extends and expands our dry-year habits. Careful, sparing use of water from backyards to businesses and farm fields will help us endure the inevitable drought."
The plan includes a requirement that the state's 410 urban water suppliers meet new water use targets. Suppliers would calculate their unique water efficiency targets based the diverse climatic, demographic and land-use character of each agency's service area. Urban water suppliers would set new targets by 2021, will a full compliance deadline of 2025.
"Californians stepped up big time during the drought," said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. "This plan allows us to build on that success and prepare for the longer and more frequent droughts we know are coming under climate change, in a way that is equitable and cost-effective. Efficiency is the cheapest and smartest way to extend our water resources."
Other key elements of the plan include banning wasteful practices, such as hosing sidewalks and watering lawns during or after rain; requiring urban water suppliers to prepare water shortage contingency plans, including a drought risk assessment every five years; and requiring more agricultural water suppliers to submit plans that quantify measures to increase water use efficiency and develop adequate drought plans. For more information on the development of the plan, visit water.ca.gov/wateruseefficiency/conservation.
Brown said that while the severely dry conditions that negatively impacted much of the state beginning with the winter of 2011-12 are gone, damage from the drought will linger for years in many areas. He said that the drought reduced farm production, trees, harmed wildlife, disrupted drinking water supplies for many rural communities and killed an estimated 100 million. The consequences of losing millions of trees and diminished groundwater basins will continue to challenge the state for years.
The California Farm Water Coalition, which is a statewide organization that represents a cross-section of California agriculture, released a statement Friday in response to Brown's executive code to underline the need to develop water infrastructure "in smart ways to foster prosperity, avert crisis, and ensure our long-term success."
"We must act now to prepare for future droughts by building integrated water storage that helps grow our economy, protect the environment, and ensure prosperity for future generations," said CFWC Executive Director Mike Wade. "But fixing our broken system goes beyond our urgent need to develop these smart storage solutions to the other water management issues confronting us. Local, state and federal agencies must adopt not only a culture of cooperation, but outcome-oriented policies that encourage responsive, efficient, and smart solutions.
"We stand ready to roll up our sleeves and work to fix the broken water management system and keep California from a state of permanent drought," continued Wade.
Also on Friday, Senator Tom Berryhill, who represents Stanislaus County among other counties, called on the "need to get moving on building the Sites and Temperance storage projects."
"It's great news that Governor Brown has declared the emergency drought over," said Berryhill. "However, the continued conservation efforts, while well-intentioned, are a mere drop in the bucket to the amount of water access we'd have with additional water storage."