As record low snow packs threaten to increase the severity of California’s already-devastating drought, Governor Jerry Brown has issued the first mandatory water restrictions in the state’s history. Under the executive order, 400 local water supply agencies—who provide water to around 90 percent of all of California residents—will be required to cut water usage by 25 percent. Additionally, campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes will be required to make cuts, municipalities will no longer water ornamental grasses on medians, and 50 million square feet of lawns will be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping.


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California is now in its third year of drought, and some data shows that the state has only one year of drinking water left. While some heavy rainfall over the winter suggested that a mild reprieve might come, the snow packs in the north of the state—the runoff from which provides 30 percent of California’s water—are now at their lowest levels since records began.

Not only does the ongoing drought threaten supplies of drinking water and the continued operations of the largest farming state in the U.S., but it also poses the risk of creating brutal wildfire seasons such as those that were seen in 2003 and 2007.

Related: California has just one year of water left

Announcing the new mandatory restrictions on water usage from a mountain near Lake Tahoe, Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters “Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow… People should realize we are in a new era. The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

The State Water Resources Control Board oversees the 400 local supply agencies who will be required to cut their water usage in order to save 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months. While the executive order does not stipulate precisely how those agencies will make the cuts, the Governor has called on them to “adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste,” according to a press release.

The local agencies do not oversee the allocation of water to farms in the state, but the executive order does require agriculture to provide more detailed reporting of their water usage to state regulators in an effort to increase “the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water.”

Additionally, the order stipulates that for immediate water savings the following measures will be taken:

– 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.

It’s a substantial set of changes, but some argue that the measures do not go far enough. Speaking to the BBC, Adam Scow, California director of the group Food & Water Watch said, “In the midst of a severe drought, the governor continues to allow corporate farms and oil interests to deplete and pollute our precious groundwater resources that are crucial for saving water.”

+ Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown

Via Mother Jones

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