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Raw Video: Gov. Newsom Declares Drought Emergency In Sonoma, Mendocino Counties

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Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a regional drought emergency for the Russian River watershed in Mendocino and Sonoma counties in response to the dry conditions affecting much of the state. (4/21/21)

Video Transcript

GAVIN NEWSOM: [INAUDIBLE] Grant, thank you. Assemblymember Wood, Dr. Wood. And Mr. Mayor, thank you for being here, members of the Board of Supervisors. Very grateful, honored to be here, that you're here, as well. And to our dream team, which I'll introduce to you in a moment, as I refer to them, of experts and historians, as well as practitioners on all things water policy and drought, representing various agencies in the state.

I'm standing currently 40 feet underwater, or should be standing 40 feet underwater, save for this rather historic moment. And we say historic often. Oftentimes, we overstate the word historic. But this is indeed an historic moment, certainly historic for this particular lake, Mendocino, which is at 43% of its capacity at this time of year. This is without precedent. Accordingly, Lake Sonoma nearby is at 62%, also without precedent, all part of this Russian River watershed, all part of a system, a water system that includes over 7,700 components. Many parts, as we say, one body. State, federal, local, regional, a dynamic system that's been built up over the last century or so, more formally over the course of the last half century plus.

We recognize the world that persisted, the world that existed a century or so ago no longer persists and exists today. The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. We talked to a representative from Scripps about atmospheric rivers, a reminder that the wets are getting wetter. And as a consequence, we need to disenthrall ourselves with the old ways of managing water supply and distribution. We need to think, act with a sense of urgency, think differently, and approach the challenges with a laser-like recognition that you can't focus the state as a one-size-fits-all solution, meaning we have to target our solutions regionally.

Truly, parts of the state are in extreme conditions like this. Other parts of our state are not experiencing the kind of extreme conditions that we're experiencing here in northern California. As a consequence, we'll be signing an executive order today that spells that out, more of an iterative framework, a framework that recognizes unique characteristics that persist and exist in different parts of the state of California.

Now, what's occurring here in the state of California is not necessarily unique to the state of California. The drought conditions persist across the West Coast of the United States. By estimates just a few weeks ago, 77% of the West Coast of the United States is in what is referred to as a mega-drought. Recently, there has been emergency proclamations, declarations, and emergency preparations that have been extended by governors all up and down the West Coast of the United States, places like Iowa, not just our neighboring states to the north like Oregon, states like Texas, states like North Dakota that are struggling through extreme drought conditions, as well.

In many ways, California is doing a little bit better than some of the other Western states. And I don't say that lightly. I say that quite specifically. We have a Western States Collaborative that was established with this pandemic, and we're engaging in a consistent basis, not only exchanging best practices and ideas to address the issues of COVID, but also now beginning to transition those conversations on sharing best practices as it relates to droughts and managing under these difficult and challenging environments.

We're year two into this drought. I want to put that in perspective. It was year two that then-governor Jerry Brown in 2013, in May, announced a similar action to the action that I'm taking. That was the second year of what became a five-year drought in the state of California, 2012 to 2016. We've barely been out of those drought conditions, and here we are entering back into these drought conditions.

As the governor did in 2013, we'll be organizing a similar strategy on the basis of his experience and the experience of the team that was also representing the Brown administration during that last drought that is here advising us on this drought in their formal roles in various departments. We'll be advancing an executive order today around drought preparation, and we will be declaring in a targeted manner a drought emergency here in Mendocino County and in Sonoma counties.

We have a emergency declaration, an emergency order that allows us to build, an executive order that allows us to build in an iterative manner as conditions persist and present themselves to add other counties to that list as necessary. But we are taking a sequential approach. We're taking a targeted approach. And we're taking an approach based upon actual conditions on the ground. Again, California, many parts, one body, not just the water system. And we have to recognize the distinctive issues that persist in various parts of the state of California.

This action follows a series of actions the state has been taking over the course of the last many, many months. In November of last year, we dusted off our drought task force. We organized and convened an internal team, represented by the folks you see on your left, on my right, that began the process anew of looking at strategies as it relates to easing our regulatory framework, making available strategies and techniques to address in real time the changing conditions that were anticipated even as far back as November, in the beginning of the rainy season, that would lead us here today.

We also did not hesitate, going back over a year, to put out a new vision for water management. I identified a problem, but we also identified over 100 specific, actionable strategies and solutions to address the needs of a changing environment, address the needs that we need to advance as it relates to climate change. We put out a new water portfolio strategy, a new vision for water management in the state of California. Hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, regional, state, federal partners, as well as private, as well as philanthropic support. We put that water portfolio strategy out. We put it out for public review.

We got an enormous amount of input, and we formalized our drought with an official report that was put out a number of months ago. I encourage people to take a look at that report, those that are looking for concrete strategies and solutions on issues, from groundwater replenishment to conjunctive use, to issues of storage in all its forms, in manifestations above-ground and below-ground, water recycling, toilet to tap strategies, issues around efficiency and conservation, and new flex strategies that are incorporated, many of those ideas and principles, in the emergency proclamation that we are putting out today in this executive action that we are putting out today, mindful of the environment, watersheds, ecology, natural resources, as well as mindful of human condition, as well as economic conditions for farmers and ranchers, for growers of all types.

And so that comprehensive strategy is set the tone for us, the strategy that architects our future-facing efforts. That strategy has also been financed-- and this is important to note-- because of leadership, the two members of the legislature, the leadership of the team that is here assembled, and the people of the state of California-- a bond was passed a number of years ago, $7.3 billion has been appropriated. $7.3 billion since the last drought has been appropriated for the all of the above strategy, including, by the way, $2.5 billion on seven large storage projects in the state. In total, those storage projects that have been financed, or at least with $2.5 billion of appropriation, have an equivalent in the aggregate storage capacity of Lake Oroville at capacity.

And I'm mindful of that because I'm mindful of the rhetoric when it comes to droughts and the ideology that shapes opinions around droughts. We are not ideological about our approach. We're very pragmatic about our approach. And that's why I reference and reinforce the $2.5 billion that was set aside for storage projects, including a site not far away from here, sites, an above-ground storage facility that's off-stream that is well underway, still in need of further financial support.

As was noted by the senator, financial support is not just limited to the $7.3 billion that's already been appropriated over the course of the last number of years. We will be substantially increasing our financial support to address the needs of the drought and communities' needs, including safe drinking water, access to reliable, safe, affordable drinking water for small and rural communities, as well as underserved communities. We'll be advancing more support in those efforts to build on what the Senate recently put out to build on what the assembly likely will put out in the next number of days. I can assure you, in my May revise, which is just a few weeks away, we will be putting substantial resources to continue to advance the cause of making the capital improvements that are necessary to prepare for a resilient future.

Droughts are not unique to California. Quite the contrary. You cannot go back to a state of the state of any previous governor and not have a state of the state include substantially issues related to droughts and forest fires. It's by no means unique or distinctive. Quite the contrary. It's part of this Mediterranean state that we live in. It's a big part of why California is as beautiful and spectacular state as it is. What is different now is the extremes. What's different now is the climate-induced impacts of these droughts.

And that's what we need to hit head-on. We need to deal with the underlying issues related to climate change. This is, after all, Climate Week. And no state in America has taken more aggressive and progressive and sustained leadership as it relates to low-carbon green growth and changing the way we produce energy than the state of California.

So we're mindful of that in the medium and short run, and our responsibility to set the pace for the rest of the country, and for that matter, in the absence of what we've experienced the last four years, even international leadership. But we also are mindful of the situational responsibilities to do more and do better, and provide flexibility so that we can meet the needs of 40 million Californians and not pit rural versus urban, not pit north versus south, region to region. This is California. We are Californians.

And we won't play into that frame. I, at least, as long as I'm here, will not play into that frame. To me, those are the old binaries. And we've got to get out of that mindset. That's why we're pursuing voluntary agreements in the state. I won't bore you with what that is, but it's important. I want to end these water wars.

We're working very closely with the Biden administration to do just that. That's why we're working collaboratively now, not lawsuits, not closed fist, but open hands with the Biden administration, including Secretary Vilsack, who we were on a conference call with a week or so ago, including the Interior Secretary. Multiple conversations over the course of the last number of weeks to work on these partnerships anew and address some of these old lawsuits and these old binaries that continue to persist in our state.

So we're in a remarkable moment. We're experiencing drought conditions throughout the vast majority of the state. Today, we are advancing a drought emergency declaration in two counties in the state. We have the ability to flex up in real time based upon an iterative mindset and a focus to deal with changing conditions as they take shape.

Other actions in this very long executive order allow for the team here from Fish and Game, Department of Water Resources, our state agencies from food and ag, as well as Natural Resource Agency and the leaders that are assembled here, allow them more flexibility, more planning, more resources, and more of a resourceful mindset in terms of engagement and collaboration. Recently-- and I'll close-- recently, we also did something else. Interestingly, didn't get a lot of attention, but I think deserves some attention--

--we put out lessons learned from the 2012-2016 experience. No greater experience than having lived through something. It's not intellectual, it's very practical. Just ask the supervisors and the mayor up here, and residents of this county. And so we incorporated six key lessons learned into a document that we put out. And I'd encourage people, as well, to take a look at that document around efficiency, around all Californians are in this together, and we all have a responsibility and a role to play to reduce water consumption.

It incorporated lessons learned on small water systems that are vulnerable in droughts, and the consolidation since then of 150 small water systems. It incorporated the imperative and importance of the Safe Drinking Water Act that we passed in 2019 to allow for $130 million to invest in reliable and safe drinking systems all up and down the state of California. Those are tools in the toolkit we didn't have going in the last drought.

And I'll just end on this, because it's important. By the way, there are no sound bites with droughts, nor with climate change. This is serious stuff. The important point is an import-- is to reinforce this moment is that Californians have a sustainable mindset. I couldn't be more proud of this state. We are currently utilizing 16% less water, our urban users, than we were prior to the last drought. It peaked about 25%, but people have kept that mindset, and they've continued to do good work.

And so I want to conclude by thanking the people of the state of California for not taking their eye off the ball, for their commitment, not just passing interest to address the issue of sustainability, and particularly the issues related to drought and water security. There's no mandates today on water consumption. There's just the encouragement, and now more support and resources for those efforts to continue and scale, and the opportunity for our leaders here, Grant and others, in partnership with local and regional leaders, to have the flexibility to meet the needs of this acute circumstance here in Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

With that, let me just sign this, and then ask if you have any questions, and then invite a team of folks to help answer any of those questions, particularly on the basis of the extraordinarily talented group that we have here assembled.

I will spare you-- this is eight pages or so-- of reading through all the details that I did, I hope, cover most of them. Let me. So this executive order will go out and officially be stamped later this afternoon. Again, I'm very grateful to Assemblyman Wood and to Senator McGuire, in particular, who've been incredible leaders on drought and water resiliency issues, as well as wildfires. And forgive me, I'd be remiss, we have a 200-acre wildfire occurring where green grass is.

We now have, year-to-date, experienced two times as many wildfires and twice as much acreage burned than we have averaged over the course of the last five years. South Anderson Valley, if you don't believe me, 50% contained those 200 acres. But you'll see that there's dry brush underneath that green grass already, in April. And so I appreciate the senator referencing the work we all did together, that $536 million for early action on wildfire preparedness, vegetation management, forest management, and also looking at home hardening, and strategies, and programs to preposition assets, including additional $80 million to hire 1,399 firefighters. 1,400 firefighters.

We will take more action in the next number of weeks with the traditional budget. I can assure you, wildfires, not just droughts, top of our agenda. We were recently at Butte County talking about that, and in Fresno County, as well. All of these things come together, and obviously create the imperative of meeting this moment with this action, the first of what I anticipate will be many similar actions over the course of the next months and years. With that, happy to answer any questions.

JEFFREY SCHAUB: Hi, Governor. Jeffrey Schaub, KCBS. So my question is, I'm told that it's probably likely that by the very beginning of the summer, you will have to declare a statewide drought emergency. Do you envision having to do that?

GAVIN NEWSOM: Well, I don't envision anything in the abstract, but we plan for everything very prescriptively and strategically. We've been planning for this action for some time. And as I noted just a moment ago, we'll have a capacity in real time to be iterative of. I anticipate being strategic and targeted in terms of the formal emergency declarations as needed. We won't wait. We'll be strategic based upon conditions as they take place.

As it relates to statewide order, we have certainly gamed that out, but right now, we're not prepared to advance a statewide order.

WAYNE FRIEDMAN: Hi, Governor. Wayne Friedman, ABC 7 News. Two questions, please. First, what was it that struck out to you, stood out about Mendocino and Sonoma counties? That's the first question. And the second question is, you said you don't expect any mandates, but the situation you say is bad. So what would prompt such mandates?

GAVIN NEWSOM: Well, again, I want to just compliment the people of the State of California. Again 16% reduction in water use compared to the last drought at this time, meaning State people of the State of California have done so much more to be more efficient and to have a conservation mindset. And so I want to continue to encourage that and provide more support on that basis.

We traditionally, and the cadence you've seen in the past, and that's why I referenced a little bit of the history of 2013, which was the second year of that five-year drought. You may recall it was a year later that Governor Brown formalized those mandates and formalized those conservation efforts. That tends to happen in the third year of a drought. This is more dynamic, and this is certainly more acute to your question around Mendocino and Sonoma. And the acuity of experiencing, particularly one single watershed and the impact of having historic low reservoir, 43% here required this urgent action.

And I am mindful that 50% capacity, plus or minus, is what we're looking at in the aggregate and large reservoirs all up and down the State. But in certain parts of the State, conditions are more favorable at the moment than they are here. And so we took the actions here because the imperative of this particular moment.

WAYNE FRIEDMAN: Are you implying that these are the worst two counties in the State of California?

GAVIN NEWSOM: I think when one does that, invariably, members that represent districts in other parts of the State cry foul. So I will only acknowledge this that we are experiencing drought conditions all up and down the State of California and extreme drought conditions all across the West Coast of the United States. And as I made clear, and I'll repeat it to reinforce the message, we're not ideological about this.

We will accommodate needs as we determine and we determine that on the basis of facts on the ground, and we continue to work very collaboratively with our partners in the Central Valley. Again, I was just there last week in Fresno County, Northern California, and certainly our friends and partners in Southern California.

MARY CALLAHAN: Hi. Mary Callahan. I'm with "The Press Democrat" newspaper. So I covered this region, and we've been through this last drought. We have a very small reservoir here that has an impact on the northern part of this region. And during the last multi-year drought, there was a lot of discussion about learning from the fact that we are now experiencing extended droughts. And I'm wondering if the current declaration does not include mandates and you don't anticipate mandates, how that helps deal with the current acute situation, given what we've learned about the past years that we may have several more years without rain.

GAVIN NEWSOM: Yeah. So we don't anticipate mandates. Let me make sure that we're clear on this. I am very clear that we're gaming out everything. I want you to be clear that we are gaming everything out. I'm not prepared to announce those now just weeks out of our April 1 snowpack survey in the second year of drought conditions in the state.

We are prepared and have certainly advanced a declaration here today of preparedness about a month earlier, and Governor Brown did during that five-year drought at a similar time. And by the way, with even more acuity, recall at the time, they were 17% snowpack when Governor Brown announced that preparation order.

And so I want to remind you the emergency declaration is one component of this executive order, but there is an executive order that includes pages of requirements for preparation for the team. That includes the entire State of California. I want to make sure people understand that distinction.

As it relates to making determinations and decisions around mandates, we will make them, as we see, necessary. Specific though, to your question, having covered this community and this region, I'm going to take advantage of the folks that were here in '13, '14, '15, '16, including the spokesperson for the Brown administration, Wade Crowfoot, who's head of our Natural Resource Agency that's leading our task force on drought to talk more specifically about what this means, this executive action, and the emergency declaration for your county and why it's very, very meaningful for the residents, businesses, and the community broadly in this area. Wade.

WADE CROWFOOT: Thank you, Governor. Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Agency. Since last October, many of our colleagues here today and several agencies across our State have been monitoring conditions over the winter to really understand, obviously, levels of rain and snow and what it means to our water supplies in the State. We recognize that, obviously, coming out of the winter, we are in our second straight dry year of very dry conditions.

That is having impacts differently in different parts of the State. Here in the Russian River Watershed, communities and the water agencies are experiencing a fairly unique circumstance. The Russian River Watershed is geographically isolated from our larger water systems in the State in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys with our State and federal project. So the Russian River Watershed really relies on precipitation falling in this watershed.

Here, in these counties, you have one of the most forward-leaning, most proactive water agencies in the entire State that has done more to expand conservation and build flexibility of the system. But even so, this climate-change-driven drought means that there is a concerning level of water supply here in Lake Mendocino and further down the system in Lake Sonoma.

So the targeted emergency proclamation today will give our State agencies the tools needed to take fairly drastic actions to preserve water for the use of communities and for health and safety purposes. And specifically, our State Water Resources Control Board has the potential through this executive order to potentially curtail water rights that would normally legally entitle water users to divert from the system. That's an important power that needs to be used very judiciously.

My colleague, Joaquin Esquivel, is here, and I think I might ask him to come up, and I think we both share that we bring those tools through the emergency proclamation that the governor has issued to this region in with a sense of partnership with local water agencies. While the State now has certain emergency powers, our anticipation is that we will use them in partnership with local communities and the local water agencies to understand what actions need to be taken to preserve water in this system.

The governor pointed out, we are in the second year of the drought. The last drought lasted five years. The so-called millennial drought in parts of Australia lasted 12 years. So the action we take today is really preparatory for anticipating these evolving conditions. And what it allows for is for our State agencies to move very nimbly with local water agencies to take whatever actions are necessary in coming weeks and months to protect water for communities in this region.

And with that, I'd ask Joaquin Esquivel, the chair of our State Water Resources Control Board, to elaborate.

- Thank you.

JOAQUIN ESQUIVEL: Thank you, Wade. I appreciate that. It is not an easy thing that we're all having to manage through. Drought, again, is very frequently on the mind of Californians, and we've gone through droughts previously. So looking back at the last drought, the board had to take drastic actions in order to curtail water rights users, but also, to modify some of the projects that are run in our watersheds in order to really focus on human health and safety flows.

And so as Wade said, those are some of the authorities that we'll be having now in an emergency fashion to allow us to move quickly. I think it's important to remember that it's mother nature herself that is curtailing us and that it's really incumbent upon all of us. And it's why you hear a real focus on local leadership to assess, understand, and manage these really dry conditions, particularly, when it comes to individuals diverting from the rivers. It's going to be really critical that we all ensure that we have the best technical information, both on the evolving hydrology and our watersheds, but also information about those water rights holders that are taking water from the system, and again, at this point, very obviously, don't have enough to meet everyone's demand.

And so we will have a very locally-driven process and focus, but if conditions continue to find themselves so extreme and we still haven't found that voluntary solution, as we say, on the local watershed to balance out these needs, we need to take quick action. And so that will allow us to do just that.

I would also just say the other provision in the emergency part is around procurement, so allowing us to quickly, on the drinking water side, buy equipment or other resources that we may need as it relates to, again, human health and safety and the needs of communities in this, really, crisis. And I'll hand it back to the governor.

GAVIN NEWSOM: No, I need you to stay up there. Well, Joaquin has been one of the extraordinary leader on making sure that we're really supporting-- I mean, we have a million people that don't have access to safe, reliable, affordable drinking water, which is an extraordinary statement in a State as well resourced to the State of California. But what we do have now is a strategy, a plan leadership, and money because leadership in the assembly and Senate as well as his leadership on an annual basis to address that with the kind of acuity of concern that's deserved. Begin.

ADRIAN BAUMANN: Hi, Governor Newsom. Adrian Baumann for "The Mendocino Voice" local newspaper. Lake Mendocino here is fed by the Russian River, which in turn, is fed partially by water coming from Lake Pillsbury and Scott Dam up there. I know that that's currently in the process of being reauthorized through FERC, which is federal agency. But I'm wondering if the State has any opinions about-- because there's been a lot of debate locally about whether Scott Dam should stay up or be taken down to facilitate salmon. And so if you have any opinion or if anybody's--

GAVIN NEWSOM: I'm going to defer to my brain trust here--

ADRIAN BAUMANN: About whether or not to keep Scott Dam up.

GAVIN NEWSOM: --so I don't get ahead of my skis on that specific issue.

ADRIAN BAUMANN: Yeah, I'm asking about keeping Scott Dam up or taking it down.

WADE CROWFOOT: Yeah. I mean, I don't have a specific answer to your direct question of whether the State does not have a formal position on that question around the dam. I will make a couple important points that I think are relevant. The first is, as the governor explained, our water resilience, our drought resilience in California will be achieved regionally. So drought resilience in this region looks very different than drought resilience in Sacramento or the Bay Area or Southern California or the Central Valley.

So on these questions around surface water supply, groundwater supply, dams, we really look to partnership with regional authorities, the counties, local communities, local groups to help us inform of the direction. Second point is, we're obviously balancing the use of our rivers for the water supply that supports 40 million Californians and the fifth largest economy in the world and also, allows for the preservation of salmon that have been returning to California's rivers for 10,000 years.

And that's, obviously, sometimes a challenging balance when there are water shortages, but it's a balance we're committed to maintaining. So you'll see our Department of Fish and Wildlife, for example, be very active during this drought period, monitoring very closely the health of these various populations-- salmon, steelhead, fish, and terrestrial wildlife-- and taking emergency quick action to protect those animals.

ADRIAN BAUMANN: Thank you.