The California Drought Is Technically Over, But Likely Not Forever

By Yessenia Funes Apr 10, 2017

Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order Friday (April 7) marking the end of California’s more than five-year drought in most parts of the state.

The executive order lifted the state of emergency in all California counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where emergency drinking water projects are needed given the scarce groundwater. All except Tuolumne are primarily comprised of people of color, with the great majority Latinx.

Throughout the drought, as the executive order mentions, the state provided more than 65 million gallons of water to fill water tanks in communities throughout the state—some related to water shortages, others for water contamination.

As Colorlines has covered in the past, certain communities in the Golden State were dealing with more than dwindling water resources. In the unincorporated town of East Porterville, the predominantly Latinx community has experienced dried out drinking water wells without benefit of an official city council or representative body to speak up for them on this and other problems, including: nitrate-contaminated drinking water and lack of streetlights and proper sidewalks. East Porterville is in Tulare County, one of the counties still under a state of emergency.

Gov. Brown was clear that the end of this drought doesn’t mean the end of all droughts, especially as climate change exacerbates such extreme weather. For California particularly, a recent UCLA study shows how climate change will reduce the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the state’s main source of water.

Given these future projections, Brown was sure to include in his executive order a mandate for the State Water Resources Control Board to continue developing permanent prohibitions on wasteful water use and permanent reporting requirements for water use. Residents are also still prohibited from wasting water through hosing off sidewalks and driveways, as well as watering lawns two days after “measurable precipitation.”

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” said Brown in a press release. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

Environmental activists have been critical throughout this drought period, however, of how industry is allowed to utilize water. A Reuters report found that the oil industry used 70 million gallons of water in 2014 during the fracking process, most of which happened near communities of color in the state. The executive order places no new restrictions on industry’s use of water.