You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Drought hits second year, but experts say the state is better prepared

LA Daily News logo LA Daily News 5/6/2021 Martin Wisckol
a group of people on a beach: California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a news conference in the parched basin of Lake Mendocino in Ukiah, Calif. on April 21, He announced he would proclaim a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP) © Provided by LA Daily News California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a news conference in the parched basin of Lake Mendocino in Ukiah, Calif. on April 21, He announced he would proclaim a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

As California heads through its second year of drought after the fourth driest winter on record, it’s in better shape to deal with the lack of water than during the 2012-2016 drought — particularly in Southern California, where reservoirs have yet to fall below historically average levels, according to experts attending a webinar hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Unlike the last drought, Sacramento and the North Coast regions have been hardest hit this time. That led Gov. Gavin Newsom last month to declare a drought emergency for Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Last time, Southern California bore a greater portion of the dry weather.

While the scientific consensus is that as climate change makes the state susceptible to increasingly severe droughts, steps are being taken to adapt.

“We have new systems to help us avoid the worst impacts of the drought,” said Alvar Escriva-Bou, a PPIC researcher, during the webinar on Thursday, May 6.

Measures taken last time around, such as replacing ornamental lawns and thirsty plants, have resulted in water demand being lower than in 2012, Escriva-Bou said. In his emergency declaration, Newsom noted that cities are using 16% less water than at the beginning of the last drought.

Escriva-Bou also pointed to investments to improve water supplies and new drought planning requirements. Among Southern California projects now underway is an expansion of Orange County’s groundwater replenishment program, in which highly treated wastewater is pumped into the groundwater supply of potable water. A similar pilot project, in Carson, could result in the treated wastewater also being piped directly to customers.

Laurel Firestone, who sits on the state Water Resources Control Board, agreed that the state is increasingly prepped to live with less rain and snow.

“I’ve seen a huge change in our ability to communicate and coordinate early and effectively,” she said. “We are much better prepared than we were last time.”

But much remains to be done to prepare not only for the future, but to best survive the current drought — particularly if it extends another year or two.

While larger urban areas and farmers are relatively well-prepared to weather the year and beyond, smaller rural communities that rely on shallow groundwater wells are particularly vulnerable to shortages, Firestone said.

Related links

Ecosystems are also vulnerable, particularly aquatic life faced with increasingly salty fresh water, algae blooms and water bodies that are evaporating.

Firestone said if not managed properly, officials could be forced to truck water to those rural communities and truck fish to safe havens.

“Those are emergencies we want to do everything we can to avoid,” she said.

Another repercussion is that wildfires could be more common — and larger.

“We had fires that have begun (already), unprecedented for this time of year,” said Grant Dave, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency. “We are preparing for a very long and severe season.”

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from LA Daily News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon