CA water restrictions rolled back after winter rains

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Gov. California is ending some of Newsom’s rules for water usage. This includes the 15% voluntary individual reduction and the state mandate for local water agencies to plan for shortages. Photo by Shutterstock.

The last three years have been the driest on record in California, prompting extensive state and local mandates to reduce water usage.

But in a dramatic turn of events, the last three months have been among the wettest in state history. All this rain has gotten lots of folks asking if we are finally out of the drought. Well, according to Governor Gavin Newsom, “It is, and continues to be, complicated.”

Nevertheless, Newsom recently announced the rollback of several executive orders regulating water usage in light of the recent deluge. This includes the 15% voluntary individual reduction and the state mandate for local water agencies to plan for shortages. But the prohibitions against watering less than 48 hours after a rain, using hoses without shutoff nozzles, and watering nonfunctional turf at commercial and industrial properties remain intact.

According to LA Times climate and drought reporter Hayley Smith, Newsome refuses to call the drought over for two main reasons. 

“First, there are still parts of the state that are experiencing acute water shortages. That would be parts of the Klamath Basin in far Northern California, parts of the Colorado River Basin in Southern California. … The other reason, which I think is really important, is that the emergency declaration gives the state the power to help local areas. So for example, providing bottled water supplies to people in the Central Valley who still don't have safe clean water coming out of their taps. Those provisions in the emergency order allow for a certain amount of aid, and that's why he doesn't want to lift them completely.” 

Smith also notes that while there is a current surplus of surface water, groundwater reserves take longer to replenish. This is especially true considering their extensive use during the last three years.

“The water that fills the basins and the aquifers beneath our feet is still pretty depleted, and it takes more than one wet winter to really recharge those supplies,” she notes. 

As climate change accelerates, more unpredictable weather swings are expected. State and local agencies must prepare for both drought and flooding in the race for water independence. 

For Smith, this means building out local infrastructure to better manage water resources. “Water independence is the name of the game here,” she explains. “We need to become more self-reliant. That includes improving our stormwater capture capabilities. It also means investing in things like recycled water facilities so that we're not just flushing water down the drain and never seeing it again.”