Newsom expands drought emergency to these Bay Area counties

As of Monday, 41 counties across California are under a drought emergency, representing 30% of the state's population. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded his drought emergency proclamation to include counties where the Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake run through. 

The governor's office said accelerated action is needed in those counties, which include Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, and Solano counties, to protect public health, safety, and the environment. A drought emergency had already been declared in Sonoma County on April 21. 

"Climate change-induced early warm temperatures and extremely dry soils have further depleted the expected runoff water from the Sierra-Cascade snowpack, resulting in historic and unanticipated reductions in the amount of water flowing to major reservoirs," Newsom's office said. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of the state and the American West is in extensive drought just a few years after California emerged from a punishing multiyear dry spell.

 Officials fear an extraordinarily dry spring presages a wildfire season like last year, when flames burned a record 6,562 square miles (16,996 square kilometers).

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state's water, was at just 59% of average on April 1, when it is normally at its peak. 

This year is unique because of extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May, the Newsom administration said. That led to quick melting of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in the waterways that feed the Sacramento River, which in turn supplies much of the state's summer water supply.

The problem was worse because much of the snow seeped into the ground instead of flowing into rivers and reservoirs, the administration said.

The East Bay’s largest water district, East Bay Municipal Utility District or EBMUD, which supplies customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, said that customers are already using 13 percent less water now than they did before 2013. 

"We're asking them to save 10 percent on top of that," Andrea Pook, an EBMUD spokesperson, said.

While EBMUD water bills may rise by four percent in July to pay for enhanced infrastructure, pending a board vote, Pook said for now, the drought emergency will not lead to bigger bills for customers.

Costs will be stable for the Alameda County Water District as well, which has enough water in storage for this year and next. The district is also asking customers to voluntarily continue conserving water, according to Robert Shaver, general manager for ACWD.  

"Our customers are already doing a great job conserving water, and what this announcement does is help us help them conserve more," Shaver said. 

To reduce water use, water boards recommend limiting outdoor watering, opting for non-grassy landscaping and more sustainable irrigation systems, checking pipes for peaks, and only using washing machines and dishwashers when loads are full

While Santa Clara County did not make the emergency declaration list Monday, it may in the future. Drought conditions are severe enough that the Santa Clara Valley Water District recently increased its calls for voluntary water conservation to 25 percent.

"We are likely on the basis of what is occurring across the state to increase the total number of counties as issues present themselves," Newsom said. 

Newsom's declaration directs the State Water Board to consider changing the rules for reservoir releases and water diversions to keep more water upstream later this year to maintain more water supply, improve water quality and protect cold water pools for salmon and steelhead.

The declaration also allows more flexibility in regulations and contracting to respond to the drought, while speeding voluntary transfers of water between owners.

Newsom said he also wants lawmakers to spend more in the next fiscal year to both respond to the drought and build the state's long-term water supply.

The governor is spending the week previewing highlights of the revised budget he will present to state lawmakers Friday for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Associated Press reporter Don Thompson contributed to this story.