California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state officials Wednesday to impose mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history as the state grapples with a serious drought.
Standing in dry, brown grass at a site that he said normally would be snow-covered this time of year, Brown announced he had signed an executive order requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels.
The move will affect residents, businesses, farmers and other users.
“We’re in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action,” Brown said at the news conference at Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada, where state water officials found no snow on the ground for their manual survey of the snowpack. “We have to pull together and save water in every way we can.”
Brown’s order also will require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to significantly cut water use; direct local governments to replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought-tolerant landscaping; and create a temporary rebate program for consumers who replace old water-sucking appliances with more efficient ones.
“We’re in a new era; the idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past,” Brown said.
The order calls on local water agencies to implement tiered water pricing that charges higher rates as more water is used and requires agricultural users to report more water use information to state regulators.
Brown’s office said that would boost the state’s ability to enforce laws against illegal water diversions and water waste.
The order also prohibits new homes and developments from using drinkable water for irrigation if the structures lack water-efficient drip systems. In addition, the watering of decorative grasses on public street medians is banned.
The snowpack has been in decline all year, with electronic measurements in March showing the statewide snow water equivalent at 19 percent of the historical average for that date.
Snow supplies about a third of the state’s water, and a higher snowpack translates to more water in California reservoirs to meet demand in summer and fall.
There was no snow at the site of Wednesday’s survey near Echo Summit, about 90 miles east of Sacramento.
“It is such an unprecedented lack of snow, it is way, way below records,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources.
Officials say the snowpack is far below the historic lows of 1977 and 2014, when it was 25 percent of normal on April 1 — the time when the snowpack is generally at its peak.
Brown previously declared a drought emergency and stressed the need for sustained water conservation. But he has come under increasing pressure to be more aggressive as the state enters its fourth year of drought.
Had Brown been more aggressive early on, say four years ago, California might not be in such a desperate situation. But that responsibility also falls on mayors and city managers. Instead of waiting for the Governor to enforce the conservation plan they should have been making people aware of the situation and seeking their compliance, because in a drought, where only a few may be wasting water, the many will suffer the consequences.
Many people already use drip watering systems and have replaced green lawns with desert landscaping, but getting the big businesses, vineyards and farms who use a lot of water to cooperate is key in this effort.
Perhaps the money for that high speed rail system would be better spent on building more desalinization plants, and might I suggest sending home several thousand illegal immigrants who are using up precious California water.