California’s Drought Emergency Is Over But Water Conservation Must Continue, Gov. Brown Declares

Gov. Jerry Brown advocates for the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 in Riverside on April 4, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)

California’s drought is over, Gov. Jerry Brown declared Friday, on the heels of a very wet winter and more than three years after an initial declaration of a statewide emergency.

In a statement, Brown urged continued conservation and warned that the “next drought could be around the corner.”

An executive order he signed Friday continued several conservation-related measures that require water-use reporting and prohibitions on water waste such as hosing off sidewalks.

The declaration comes a day after a major victory for Brown on Thursday night, when the Legislature narrowly approved a massive road repair package the governor had campaigned for. The law will require increased vehicle fees and the first gas tax hike in 23 years.

With Friday’s action, Brown rescinded two drought-related executive orders from 2014, including the one that declared a drought state of emergency, excepting four counties in Central California. Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne counties have ongoing emergency drinking water projects intended to address diminished groundwater supplies, according to the governor’s statement.

State agencies on Friday also released a framework to improve conservation measures long term. The plan, titled Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life, requires legislation that would give the state water board authority to set urban water-use efficiency standards by 2021.

“Technically, the drought is over, but this framework extends and expands our dry-year habits,” California Department of Water Resources Acting Director Bill Croyle said in a statement. “Careful, sparing use of water from backyards to businesses and farm fields will help us endure the next inevitable drought.”

The drought that began in 2012 included the four driest years on record for California. The smallest mountain snowpack on record — 5 percent of average — was recorded in 2015.

The USDA Drought Monitor data for California, for early April 20187, left, and 2016, is shown.

In addition to forcing cutbacks in agricultural production, the drought killed some 100 million trees, harmed wild animals and affected drinking supplies for some rural communities. The damage will continue to affect the state for years, the governor stated.

As of Thursday, according to the federal government’s Drought Monitor, nearly 77 percent of California was drought-free.

No part of the state was experiencing the two worst categories of drought, and only about 1 percent, in Imperial County along the Mexico border, was in “severe drought.” A year earlier, nearly three-quarters of California was in “severe drought” or worse.

Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions have persisted in Southern California.