Governor Newsom Issues Drought Executive Order

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On March 28, 2022, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order No. 7-77, intended to provide guidance on emergency drought relief. The Executive Order (EO) states that “the 21st century to date has been characterized by record-breaking heat and mostly dry conditions, and the meteorological summer of 2021 in California and the rest of the western United States has been hottest on record” and “the drought will have significant and immediate impacts on communities with vulnerable water supplies, farms that rely on irrigation to produce food and fiber, and fish and wildlife that depend on stream flows and fresh water.

Read on as CalTrout dives into the details of this important directive…

Executive Order Requirements:

As part of the Order, the Governor directed the State Water Resources Control Board to assess the adoption of regulations and relaxations of permits for positive measures to drought. These regulations include prohibiting the irrigation of “non-functional” turf (or grass), such as decorative grass adjacent to large industrial and commercial buildings. The ban would not include residential lawns or grass used for recreational purposes, such as school grounds, sports fields and parks.

In addition, the ordinance directs the National Water Board to prepare municipal water agencies for restrictive measures in the event of drought. Specifically, the Council asks these urban water suppliers to be prepared to activate, at a minimum, level 2 of their personalized contingency plans in the event of a water shortage. These plans are developed by local water agencies to deal with extreme drought and each plan is customized to an agency’s unique infrastructure and management. Trigger level 2 of these plans involves the implementation of water conservation actions to prepare for a level of water scarcity of up to 20%.

The Governor also directed state agencies to submit funding proposals to support the state’s short- and long-term drought response, including emergency assistance to communities and households facing drought-related water shortages, facilitating groundwater recharge and wastewater recycling, improving water use efficiency, protecting fish and wildlife, and minimizing drought-related economic disruptions.

Important EO Highlights:

  • Enable vulnerable communities to access emergency drinking water
    • Cuts red tape so communities that need access to emergency hauled or bottled water can get it immediately.
  • Ensuring groundwater supply
    • Requires local permitting authorities to coordinate with groundwater sustainability agencies to ensure that proposed new wells do not compromise existing wells or infrastructure, as 85% of public water supply systems rely heavily on groundwater during drought.
    • Rationalizations enabling groundwater recharge projects that help replenish aquifers when rains arrive.
  • Suspension of CEQA for essential emergency restoration initiatives
    • While CalTrout does not approve of the massive changes to California’s water protection law, we believe that the timelines associated with authorizing emergency actions during droughts should be relaxed.
  • Protections for vulnerable fish and wildlife
    • Accelerates state agency approvals for actions needed to protect fish and wildlife when drought conditions threaten their health and survival
  • Inspect illegal water diversions
    • Orders the Water Board to extend site inspections to determine if there are any illegal diversions.
  • Highlight the importance of multiple-benefit floodplain projects
    • Support projects that reduce flood risk and those that restore or mimic historic river and floodplain processes.

Take the necessary measures :

This executive order is a step in the right direction, and CalTrout is pleased that Governor Newsom’s administration is taking proactive steps within its executive powers. That being said, these measures must be followed by statutory change, real funding and a relaxation of authorizations for the emergency actions necessary in the event of drought.

We look forward to working with the administration to deliver on these commitments and make the drought preparedness and common sense permit changes permanent. This philosophy is embodied in AB 2451 sponsored by the Caltrout and Salmon and Steelhead Coalition, which would build a permanent drought section at the State Water Board so that California would not be caught off guard during our next drought.

CalTrout will work tirelessly to ensure this order is one of many important decisions California will make to ensure this drought does not permanently damage the recovery of our most endangered species.

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