Drought

By Chris Megerian, Matt Stevens and Bettina Boxall
April 1, 2015

Standing in a brown field that would normally be smothered in several feet of snow, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered cities and towns across California to cut water use by 25% as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions, the first in state history.

The directive comes more than a year after Brown asked for a 20% voluntary cut in water use that most parts of the state have failed to attain, even as one of the most severe modern droughts drags into a fourth year. It also came on the day that water officials measured the lowest April 1 snowpack in more than 60 years of record-keeping in the Sierra Nevada.

Wearing hiking shoes and a windbreaker in an area that normally requires cross-country skis this time of year, Brown announced the executive order in a Sierra Nevada meadow that provided a dramatic illustration of the state’s parched conditions.

“We’re standing on dry grass,” Brown said. “We should be standing on five feet of snow.”

Emphasizing that the drought could persist, Brown said Californians must change their water habits. “It’s a different world,” he said. “We have to act differently.”

The order focused on urban life even though agriculture accounts for roughly three quarters of Californians’ water usage. Cities have to stop watering the median strips that run down the middle of roads. The state will partner with local agencies to remove 50 million square feet of grass — the equivalent of about 1,150 football fields — and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping.

State agencies will create a temporary rebate program to encourage homeowners to replace water-guzzling appliances with high-efficiency ones. Golf courses, campuses and cemeteries must cut their water use. New developments will have to install drip or microspray systems if they irrigate with drinking water. Water agencies will discourage water waste with higher rates and fees.

The order aims to reduce the amount of water used statewide in urban areas in 2013 by 25%.

Some critics of Brown’s order said it didn’t do enough to address agricultural uses. Adam Scow, director of Food & Water Watch California, called the order disappointing.

“The governor must save our groundwater from depletion by directing the state water board to protect groundwater as a public resource,” Scow said in a statement.

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, said the measure isn’t about “finger-pointing”…“It’s about everybody having to step up in these tough times.”

The water board will release draft regulations in mid-April to implement the order. It plans to approve the regulations in early May.

Marcus said local agencies will receive targets for cutting water use based on how well they’ve done so far
On Assignment: Focusing on the effects of California’s persistent drought

Local agencies that have been slow to conserve since then will feel the order’s effects most dramatically, Marcus said.

“You’re rewarding the early adopters … and you’re saying to the laggers, ‘You have to make a change,’” she said.

Most of the burden of enforcement will fall on local agencies.

If they don’t follow the governor’s order, the state can fine them as much as $10,000 a day.

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