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Gov. Gavin Newsom declares drought emergency across California, calls for statewide conservation

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/20/2021 Celina Tebor, USA TODAY
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Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a drought emergency across California, urging residents to reduce their water use after the state saw its second-driest year on record. 

The state is experiencing its worst drought since the late 1800s, according to the governor's office. August 2021 was the driest and hottest August on record since the state began reporting data. 

“As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it’s critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible,” Newsom said in a statement. “With historic investments and urgent action, the state is moving to protect our communities, businesses and ecosystems from the immediate impacts of the drought emergency while building long-term water resilience to help the state meet the challenge of climate change impacts making droughts more common and more severe.”

A ramp falls short of reaching the waters of Lake Powell on June 24, 2021 in Lake Powell, Utah. As severe drought grips parts of the Western United States, a below average flow of water is expected to flow through the Colorado River Basin into two of its biggest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Powell is currently at 34.56 percent of capacity, a historic low. The lake stands at 138.91 feet below full pool and has dropped 44 feet in the past year. The Colorado River Basin supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states. © Justin Sullivan, Getty Images A ramp falls short of reaching the waters of Lake Powell on June 24, 2021 in Lake Powell, Utah. As severe drought grips parts of the Western United States, a below average flow of water is expected to flow through the Colorado River Basin into two of its biggest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Powell is currently at 34.56 percent of capacity, a historic low. The lake stands at 138.91 feet below full pool and has dropped 44 feet in the past year. The Colorado River Basin supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states.

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In July, Newsom asked people and businesses to voluntarily cut how much water they use by 15%. As of August, California had reduced urban water use by 5%, the State Water Resources Control Board reported. 

But the Southern California coast, home to more than half of the state's nearly 40 million residents, cut water use by only 3.1% in August.

Most of the counties in the nation's most populous state have been in a drought emergency since the summer, but Tuesday's declaration added the remaining eight that had not been included: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco and Ventura counties.

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Newsom's proclamation also requires local water suppliers to implement water shortage contingency plans "that are responsive to local conditions and prepare for the possibility of a third dry year."

California relies on reservoirs, mainly along the Colorado River, for its water supply. And the two largest reservoirs in the United States, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are at record low elevations.

The low water levels triggered the first water shortage along the Colorado River, which means that starting in 2022, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico will all have to cut their water use. 

If water levels at the reservoirs continue to fall, California will face the same fate as its southwest counterparts in having to reduce water consumption.

Newsom's declaration comes as California is expecting its first significant rainfall of the season this week. The rain won't be enough to make up for all the water California lost over the summer, but the storms will provide relief, even if temporary, for the parched state.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gov. Gavin Newsom declares drought emergency across California, calls for statewide conservation

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