More bad news floods into California…… as state regulators ordered the city of San Francisco and scores of San Joaquin Valley farmers to stop pulling water from Valley rivers, the latest sign of California’s drought worsening. The water-rights “curtailment orders” issued by the State Water Resources Control Board affect San Francisco’s ability to pull water from the Tuolumne River, one of its most important water sources. Others affected include the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, which deliver water to farmers and residents in the northern San Joaquin Valley from the Tuolumne – 212 public water systems are affected – amounting to “significant, very deep cuts and curtailments.”
This doesn’t mean taps will go dry in San Francisco. Water already held in storage isn’t affected, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported that reservoirs controlled by the city have relatively strong supplies. The curtailments are mostly centered on the San Joaquin Valley, and the board doesn’t expect to curtail many water rights on the Sacramento River. But farmers and other rights holders on the Sacramento have already lost vast amounts of their water this year due to separate cutbacks mandated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, resulting in widespread idling of rice fields in the Sacramento Valley.
The board made similar moves last August, but this is early June, a troubling indicator of the severity of the drought, now in its third year. The rainy season is over and the Sierra Nevada snowpack is effectively gone – “there is no more snow to melt” – the state can’t expect any relief for its parched reservoirs until fall. Meanwhile, new figures released by the state board show that urban Californians remain largely indifferent to Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for 15% voluntary water conservation. The board said per-capita urban water consumption in April fell by 7% compared to a year earlier — and was 17% higher when compared with April 2020. All told, urban Californians have reduced consumption by just 2% since the governor called for savings last summer.
The fact that water usage fell in April compared to a year earlier was “at least heartening,” said board Chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel. Others, though, said the conservation numbers need to get a lot better. “These are not the numbers we wanted to see, and they are not the numbers we need to see,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Newsom has threatened to impose mandatory statewide cuts on urban usage if the conservation figures don’t improve.