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State drought response

State drought response

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference near San Luis Reservoir in Merced County, California.
California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference near San Luis Reservoir in Merced County, California. Photo taken May 10, 2021. Ken James / California Department of Water Resources.

After two exceptionally dry winters, California is once again experiencing drought conditions.

Here’s how the state is taking action:

  • We’re giving agencies the tools they need to tackle the drought emergency.
  • We’re addressing long-standing water challenges.
  • And we’re securing vital and limited water supplies to sustain our state into the future.

Since our last major drought (2012-16), California is much less vulnerable to drought. State agencies provided key lessons in a comprehensive report.

Key improvements since 2016

New actions

New emergency water conservation regulation

On May 24, 2022, the State Water Board adopted an emergency water conservation regulation that will ensure more aggressive conservation by local water agencies. It went into effect on June 10.

The new regulation bans irrigating turf at commercial, industrial, and institutional properties, including common areas managed by HOAs. The ban does not include watering turf used for recreation or other community purposes, water used at residences or water to maintain trees. The regulation also requires all urban water suppliers to move to Level 2 of their Water Shortage Contingency Plans.

Governor moves to bolster conservation efforts

On March 28, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom took steps to drive water conservation at the local level.

He called on local water suppliers to move to Level 2 of their Water Shortage Contingency Plans, requiring locally-appropriate actions that will conserve water across all sectors, and he directed the State Water Resources Control Board to consider a ban on the watering of decorative grass at businesses and institutions.

Water waste in landscaping prohibited

On January 4, 2022, the State Water Board adopted new regulations to prohibit water waste in response to the ongoing drought emergency. They went into effect January 18, 2022.

For at least one year, Californians are prohibited from using drinking water for activities such as filling decorative fountains/ponds, washing sidewalks and driveways, watering lawns during and right after rain, and using hoses without automatic shutoff nozzles.

Declaring drought emergency statewide

On October 19, 2021, the Governor expanded the drought emergency proclamation statewide to include 8 remaining counties: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, and Ventura. 

He re-emphasized that Californians should save water by voluntarily reducing their consumption by 15%. He empowered the Water Board to prohibit wasteful uses of potable water such as washing sidewalks or driveways.

Funding for drought resilience

On September 23, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of climate action bills that include $5.2 billion for drought response and long-term water resilience

The measures will secure and expand water supplies, support drinking water and wastewater infrastructure with a focus on small and disadvantaged communities, improve water supply security and quality, and support wildlife and habitat restoration.

Previously, on July 28, 2021, Governor Newsom signed AB 148, which allows state agencies to expedite funding for areas experiencing drought.

Call for voluntary water conservation

On July 8, 2021, amid deepening drought and record-breaking temperatures throughout the West, the Governor called on Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15% to protect water reserves if drought conditions continue and help maintain critical flows for fish and wildlife wherever possible.

The Governor also expanded his previous drought emergency proclamation to include nine additional counties where drought effects are increasingly severe: Inyo, Marin, Mono, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. To date, 50 of California 58 counties have declared drought emergencies.

Expanded drought emergency

On May 10, 2021, the Governor expanded the drought emergency proclamation to include new areas. It now includes counties in the Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake Watershed. This action was necessary to protect public health, safety, and the environment. In total, the drought state of emergency now covers 41 counties, where 30% of the state’s population lives.

Governor Newsom also proposed a $5.1 billion package of investments for drought response and water resilience. This package would:

  • Address immediate emergency needs
  • Build regional capacity to endure drought, and
  • Safeguard water supplies for communities, the economy and the environment.

Proclaimed drought emergency

On April 21, 2021, Governor Newsom proclaimed a drought emergency. This lets the state respond to water supply shortfalls where conditions are extremely dry. It covered the Russian River Watershed of Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Supported local and regional efforts

In April 2019, Governor Newsom ordered state agencies to prepare a Water Resilience Portfolio. This helps California’s diverse regions endure drought, flood, and changing precipitation patterns. The state released the implementation of the Portfolio in July 2020. It supports local and regional efforts to meet community, economic, and environmental needs in the face of climate change.

Convened interagency taskforce

The Governor has convened a broad team from many agencies to prepare for drought. This helps the state quickly protect communities, economic activity, and the natural environment.

The Drought Resilience Taskforce reports to the Governor’s Office. It includes the following departments and agencies: 

The Taskforce meets regularly to coordinate and direct state response to the drought. It engages key partners to plan, coordinate, and collaborate on necessary drought-related actions. Those partners include: 

  • Federal, tribal and local governments
  • Local water agencies and irrigation districts
  • Agriculture producers and associations
  • Community-based organizations and environmental justice groups, and
  • Environmental conservation organizations and conservancies.

Regional drought response

See these pages from the California Water Board to learn about efforts in your region.

Commitment to human right to water and water equity

The California Water Code establishes that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water for adequate consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes. Previous droughts, and the COVID-19 public health crisis, have highlighted existing inequities in our State when it comes to access to clean and affordable water.

Our people and economy depend upon reliable supplies of water. Reliability is challenged by population and economic growth and climate-driven variability. We must prioritize securing adequate water supplies for an uncertain future—and start fulfilling the human right to water for the more than one million Californians who currently lack safe drinking water supplies.

 Here are the steps California is taking:

  • Requiring state agencies to consider the human right to water principle when setting policies and regulations.
  • Implementing the Safe and Affordable Drinking Act of 2019
  • Directing $52 million in Proposition 1 grant funds since 2016 to Tribal and underserved communities for the development of regional projects that address water challenges, including drought
  • Developing the Rural Community Explorer Tool to support drought resilience planning in rural communities