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Governor Gavin Newsom made headlines last week when he declared a drought emergency for our very dry State – but only in two of California’s 58 counties, Mendocino and Sonoma. Some central valley farmers and others with water interests had hoped for a statewide decree.
Instead, Newsom said conditions vary so much that a one-size-fits-all approach no longer makes sense. In an interview Thursday with the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune, chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board Joaquin Esquivel, environmental protection secretary Jared Blumenfeld, director of resources in water Karla Nemeth, Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and Director of Fisheries and Wildlife Chuck Bonham offered a strong defense of Newsom’s decision and its water policy in general. And they said the administration would continue to monitor conditions and reassess the delicate balance between recommendations and conservation requirements. San Diego should be grateful, for now.
Given that Southern California is in much better shape than Northern California – with the massive Metropolitan Water District report save reserves – it would be both strange and difficult to demand major conservation efforts in our region.
But while the waterfront news isn’t dire all over the Golden State, the mid- to long-term situation for the entire state is grim. Since at least 2015, the climate emergency caused by greenhouse gas emissions has warned some scientists that the entire Southwest could face a massive mega-drought, with grim implications for future water supplies and the risks of forest fires. A 2020 published study in the journal Science argued that the regional mega-drought was already underway.
Has the Newsom administration done enough to face the moment and prepare for this problem, to tackle cyclical droughts and worsening wildfires?
Perhaps. In the interview, Nemeth said, “We are on the right track to make generational changes in water management.” Local water planning agencies have been tasked with preparing for droughts as long as seven years, compared to the old standard of three years.
Newsom aid also touts California’s water resilience portfolio plan which was designed at the request of the governor and released last year. The plan emphasizes the need to maintain and diversify water supplies and protect water sources. It describes over 100 ways to keep water systems functioning under extreme conditions across the state, with many ideas specific to certain regions.
As for forest fire control, April 13, Newsom sign a $ 536 million program that will fund projects to support forest fire suppression, improve forest health, create fuel cuts around communities at risk of disaster, and more.
Yet the state continues not to use a simple tool at its disposal to reduce the risk of fire. As documented in a 2019 report in the Union-Tribune, the State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, is reluctant to fine homeowners for failing to respect the creation of a defensible space free of flammable vegetation around their homes, as they are required to do under state law. . Agency inspectors would prefer to issue toothless warnings.
In a climate emergency, this is not enough. Particularly given the increased resources now available to Cal Fire, this should inspire owners to help themselves. These problems are here to stay.