SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to California’s historic drought Friday, lifting emergency orders that had forced residents to stop running sprinklers as often and encouraged them to rip out thirsty lawns during the state’s driest four-year period on record.
The governor’s order that keeps in place conservation measures came as a springtime storm bears down on the waterlogged state.
Brown lifted the drought emergency in all California counties except Tuolumne, Fresno, Kings and Tulare, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies.
There will be no immediate changes for Modesto. Utilities Director Larry Parlin said the city will wait on the State Water Resources Control Board to implement Brown’s executive order and adopt new conservation rules in the coming weeks before considering any changes.
“There may be some further loosening of outdoor watering restrictions,” Parlin said, “but we won’t know for a few weeks. Conservation is here to stay. And we have to be concerned about the groundwater supply,” which was taxed during the drought. Modesto gets its drinking water from wells and the Tuolumne River.
Modesto has allowed twice-a-week outdoor watering since April 1, up from once a week during winter.
The drought strained native fish that migrate up rivers, killed millions of trees, and forced farmers in the nation’s leading agricultural state to rely heavily on groundwater, with some tearing out orchards. It also dried up wells, forcing hundreds of families in rural areas to drink bottled water and bathe from buckets.
Brown declared the drought emergency in 2014, and officials later ordered mandatory conservation for the first time in state history. Regulators last year relaxed the rules after a rainfall was close to normal.
But monster storms this winter erased nearly all signs of drought, blanketing the Sierra Nevada with deep snow, California’s key water source, and boosting reservoirs.
“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a statement. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”
Officials already have started charting long-term rules to make California more resilient as climate change makes weather patterns more severe.
“There’s a greater appreciation of just how precious water is,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board. “We’ve got to plan for longer droughts.”
Cities and water districts throughout the state will be required to continue reporting their water use each month, said the governor’s order, which also bans wasteful practices, such as hosing off sidewalks and running sprinklers when it rains.
New rules are expected to permanently ban wasteful practices, such as hosing off sidewalks and watering landscapes in the days after it rains. Officials say they will work aggressively to stop leaks that waste water.
Modesto Bee staff writer Kevin Valine contributed to this report.