Amid worsening drought, Gov. Jerry Brown signs far-reaching executive order designed to reduce state’s water consumption by twenty-five percent
- Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
- Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models;
- Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
- Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.
“We’re in a new era,” Gov. Brown told reporters. “The idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.” The location of Brown’s press conference spoke to the importance of the annual snowpack on the state’s water resources. As the Guardian explains:
The 1 April snowpack survey is an important indicator of the amount of water the state will have in its reservoirs as the state’s wet historically wet season winds down. “In what were considered normal precipitation years, the snowpack supplied about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and summer,” the DWR said in a statement on Wednesday. California relies on a series of massive storms during the winter months to drop snow on California’s mountain ranges. During the spring and summer months the snowpack melts and fills the state’s reservoirs. Historically, 1 April marked peak snowpack for the year. This year, the mountain runoff will likely be just a trickle. David Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, said the previous driest condition on this date was 25%, in 2014 and 1977. “We’re not only setting a new low, we’re completely obliterating the previous record,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “And this is the supply of 30% of the state’s fresh water.”
In response to the increasing lack of water and the persistent drought in 2014, Brown declared a state of emergency in California and urged residents across the state to take voluntary measures to curb consumption. Many of the directives contained in this new order, however, are mandatory. As the Huffington Post‘s Lydia O’Connor put it, “Conserving water in California isn’t just a suggestion anymore.” Last month, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at UC Irvine, made headlines after he wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times warning that California’s reservoirs could run out of water in as little as one year. Though the column received some pushback by those worried it mischaracterized the nature of the state’s water supply system, there is wide agreement that California’s drought is the most severe of the modern era. In September of 2014, researchers from Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Geological Survey warned that the chances of western states like California experiencing a decade-long drought this century is now at fifty-fifty, and that a drought lasting as long as 35 years—defined as a “megadrought”—has a twenty- to fifty-percent chance of occurring. Last month, a Stanford University study led by Professor Noah Diffenbaugh concluded that California’s current water crisis is primarily the result of human-caused climate change and will likely grow even worse. “We’ve seen the effects of record heat on snow and soil moisture this year in California, and we know from this new research that climate change is increasing the probability of those warm and dry conditions occurring together,” Diffenbaugh added. Last week, in a related effort to combat the state’s water shortage, Gov. Brown approved $1 billion in funds designed to assist state residents and communities who are struggling amidst the drought.