California governor declares drought emergency in 41 counties

California Governor Gavin Newsom attends the opening of the country's first federal and state operated community vaccination site during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, U.S.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday issued an expanded “drought emergency proclamation” for 41 of the state’s 58 counties, citing above-average temperatures and dry conditions for April and May.

Newsom, a first-term Democrat facing a recall election over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, directed the state’s water board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases and take other conservation measures.

The declaration also gives the state flexibility in regulatory requirements to mitigate drought impacts, which Newsom attributed in part to global climate change.

“We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water,” Newsom said.

The move was criticized by Save California Salmon, a wildlife protection group that accused Newsom of favoring big agriculture interests.

“Poor water management during the last drought led to 90% of the salmon dying and toxic algal blooms in cities’ water supplies,” Regina Chichizola, the group’s policy director, said in a statement.

“California’s antiquated water rights system leaves cities and the environment high and dry while almonds get clean water,” Chichizola said.

Newsom in April proclaimed a regional drought emergency in two Northern California counties. At the time, a key measure of snowfall in the state was about 40% below average. California depends on snow melt in the spring to replenish streams and reservoirs.

On April 26 California’s secretary of state said a Republican-led campaign to recall Newsom had qualified for the ballot.

Newsom was sharply criticized after dining in November at a posh Napa Valley restaurant, the French Laundry, despite repeatedly admonishing Californians to avoid such outings during the pandemic.

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