For First Time in History, California Calls for Mandatory Water Restrictions

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced a sweeping executive order Wednesday that imposes mandatory water restrictions across the state as California copes with a historic drought and water shortage. (AP)
California Gov. Jerry Brown announced a sweeping executive order Wednesday that imposes mandatory water restrictions across the state as California copes with a historic drought and water shortage. (AP)

While the East Coast continues to grapple with Old Man Winter, California’s balmy weather and lack of precipitation has resulted in a first-ever statewide water edict.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a brown patch of Sierra Nevada that should be buried in snow to announce a broad-based initiative to reduce water usage by 25%, or 1.5 million acre-feet over the next nine months.

“It’s a different world,” said Brown. “We have to act differently.”

Paltry mountain snow pack – the lowest since 1950 – means perilously low levels at state reservoirs, which supply 30% of the state’s May-through-November water to homeowners, farms, wineries and utilities.

During past water crises, such as the punishing drought of 1976, each water district was in charge of enacting measures to reduce water usage.

This state-wide mandate is a nod to both the severity of the situation and the likelihood of its persistence, says Dave Feldman, professor of policy, planning and design at the University of California at Irvine.

“The growing consensus is this may be the new norm for a few more years, so we’ll have to get used to it,” he says. “And you can’t plan for a drought during a drought.”

California homeowners were urged by their local water utilities months ago to aim for a 20% reduction in their water use, with fines accompanying actions such as washing off sidewalks and driveways or washing a car with an uncapped hose.

While there is as yet still no talk of a two-minute shower, the new mandate is likely to increase the number of limitations on water use, with an accompanying increase in price for water use beyond a certain number of gallons per month.

“What this announcement does really is communicate to the people how serious this is,” says Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources. “We’ll see more tiered pricing, more restrictions on landscaping. We need to deal with the simple uncertainty of how low the drought will last.”

Among the measures Brown will have the California Water Resources Control Board oversee is water reduction on the part of golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscaped spaces; the replacement of 50 million square feet of law statewide with drought-tolerant landscaping; a rebate program to encourage the purchase of water-saving appliances; and requiring new homes to use drip irrigation.

“In past droughts, it was fairly easy to greatly reduce water usage because per capita it was fairly high,” says Parker. “The problem this time around, is many Californians are already conserving water. So we’ll need to ratchet things up.”

SOURCE: Marco della Cava
USA TODAY

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