CA Governor Declares Mandatory Statewide Water Reductions

originally posted at

SACRAMENTO – “Following the lowest snowpack ever recorded and with no end to the drought in sight, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced actions that will save water, increase enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state’s drought response and invest in new technologies that will make California more drought resilient.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Governor Brown. “Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”

High resolution photos of previous snow surveys are available here.

For more than two years, the state’s experts have been managing water resources to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one. Last year, the Governor proclaimed a drought state of emergency. The state has taken steps to make sure that water is available for human health and safety, growing food, fighting fires and protecting fish and wildlife. Millions have been spent helping thousands of California families most impacted by the drought pay their bills, put food on their tables and have water to drink.


The following is a summary of the executive order issued by the Governor today.

Save Water

For the first time in state history, the Governor has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville.

Above Photo– the shift in Lake Oroville, CA

To save more water now, the order will also:

-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.

Increase Enforcement

The Governor’s order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.

Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order. Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.

Additional actions required by the order include:

-Taking action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have not shared data on their groundwater supplies with the state;
-Updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and taking action against communities that ignore these standards; and
-Making permanent monthly reporting of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions by local water suppliers.

Big Agriculture and California’s New Water Restrictions 


via The Sacramento Bee

“…Largely missing from Brown’s appeal was the one industry that uses more water than anything else in this state but has already been brutalized by the drought – agriculture. As Californians mulled Brown’s unprecedented order, some wondered why farms were not being asked to sacrifice more.

Brown ordered farmers to report more information about their use of water. But he sheltered the agriculture industry from a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use in cities and towns.

In developing the mandate, Brown viewed the agricultural and urban water systems as two different systems, administration officials said, largely because of the effect of diminished state and federal water allocations to farmers.

The exemption is significant. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, about 9 million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing about 80 percent of the water used by people. Farmers counter that they have already endured severe water cutbacks forcing them to fallow fields, uproot trees and let go of workers.

“We’ve had folks reduced 50, 80 and 100 percent of their water allocation,” said Danny Merkley, director of water resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “We don’t like to see this happening to anybody else, but others are starting to feel what we’ve been experiencing.”

Politically, agriculture occupies an influential rung in the hierarchy of industries lobbying – and contributing to – California’s elected officials. The $40 billion industry employs about 420,000 and has made California the nation’s top agricultural producing state, sustaining its image as the nation’s breadbasket.

“Agriculture has a lot of clout,” said former Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. “I think that for most members, urban or rural, they see agriculture as a very important economic component in California,” and agricultural groups “have generally been unenthusiastic, to say the least, about things that would change the status quo with respect to water.”

Until last year, California was the lone Western state that did not regulate withdrawals of groundwater. But as reservoirs shriveled and the flow from state and federal plumbing systems evaporated – federal officials forecast they would make no deliveries this year – farmers increasingly drew water from beneath the earth.

Many began drilling deeper wells, depleting aquifers and in some cases causing the earth to sink.

With Brown urging them on, Dickinson and others responded with bills regulating California’s groundwater, stoking opposition from agricultural groups and from both Republicans and moderate Democrats representing rural districts. Growers pushed successfully to give some agencies until 2022 to implement monitoring plans.

“We were unsuccessful in stopping it,” Merkley said. “I think we were successful in making it better.”

On Wednesday, Brown built off of the groundwater legislation with a more muscular effort to force water agencies to share groundwater data with the state.

Kurt Schwabe, an associate professor of environmental economics and policy at University of California, Riverside, said of Brown’s approach to agriculture, “To say that they’re getting a free ride here is just incorrect.”

“By the same token,” he said, “in the last seven years the way they’ve responded (to drought) is by pumping groundwater in the Central Valley, and pumping at a rate that is unsustainable.”

John Carter, manager of the Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, a conservation group based in Paris, Idaho, said California should be further restricting water use on agricultural land, especially for crops used to feed animals.

“We know why they’ve been exempted,” Carter said. “They have political power, and they’ve been there a long time.”

While the Western Growers Association fought last year’s groundwater package, senior vice president Dave Puglia called collecting more data a sensible mandate.

His objection was leveled at people who argue that farmers have not seen enough water restrictions.

“The only people in California who have actually turned the tap and seen air come out are farmers,” Puglia said. “People who think farmers haven’t been asked to do enough, they can talk to any of the 17,000 workers who don’t have paychecks this year because farmers’ water has been completely cut off.”

Water agency customers both urban and agricultural could also see relief from Brown’s directive hastening water transfers. As the drought has intensified, major water agencies have struck agreements to buy up water from those with some to spare.

That some agencies are paying hefty fees for spare water speaks to the fierce competition for a share of the state’s dwindling supply. Farmers say they have felt the effects acutely, already fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and, in the case of hundreds of Central Valley farmers, bracing for no water deliveries from the Central Valley Project this year.

“Zero percent, how do you get any less?” said Cannon Michael, who grows row crops in the Los Banos area. “I guess I don’t understand the other side saying we’re not participating in the pain of the drought.”


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