MENDOCINO COUNTY (CBS SF/AP) — 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.

The governor’s announcement Wednesday at a dry Lake Mendocino comes as California is expected to face another devastating wildfire season after a winter with little precipitation.

“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 this time of year,” Newsom said standing in a portion of the lake that would normally be underwater.

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Newsom also directed state agencies to take immediate action to counter the effects of the two-year drought and prepare for additional impacts on communities and ecosystems the dry conditions extend into a third year.

Reservoirs in Sonoma and Mendocino counties are at record lows as drought conditions persist. The state Department of Water Resources says its the fourth driest year on record statewide, especially in the northern two-thirds of the state.

The governor’s order allows the state to prepare for the expected effects of the water shortage more quickly. State agencies are to work with regional and local governments to identify watersheds, public water systems, communities and ecosystems that may require targeted actions to mitigate the drought’s effects on residents, natural resources and economic activity.

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“California is facing the familiar reality of drought conditions, and we know the importance of acting early to anticipate and mitigate the most severe impacts where possible,” Newsom in a press statement. “Climate change is intensifying both the frequency and the severity of dry periods. This ‘new normal’ gives urgency to building drought resilience in regions across the state and preparing for what may be a prolonged drought at our doorstep.”

Newsom’s order also directs the State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases in the Russian River watershed or limit diversions to ensure adequate supplies for critical purposes.

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The Russian River watershed is unique in that it relies much more on falling precipitation as it is “geographically isolated” from larger water systems in the state, said Wade Crowfoot, the state’s natural resources secretary.

Farmers and leaders in Central Valley counties are pleading with the governor to declare a statewide emergency, saying they desperately need water.

Local water districts are already taking action against dry conditions, with the district serving a chunk of Marin County telling residents they’ll have to stop washing vehicles at home and filling backyard pools starting next month, or face fines.

Newsom said he’s not anticipating issuing mandates but added, “I am very clear that we’re gaming out everything.”

About three-quarters of the western United States is in what is called a megadrought, he said.

Last week, hundreds of farmers who rely on a massive irrigation project spanning the Oregon-California border were told they’ll get a fraction of the water deliveries they need as federal regulators attempt to balance agriculture against federally threatened and endangered fish species central to the heritage of several tribes.

 

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.