Despite the fact that Turlockers had to don galoshes and rain coats last week — a rarity for May in the Central Valley — make no mistake, the drought isn't over.
Governor Edmund G. Brown made sure on Monday that water suppliers across the state wouldn't forget the devastating impact the drought has had on California residents and businesses by issuing an executive order that establishes longer-term water conservation measures, including permanent monthly water use reporting, new permanent water use standards in communities and bans on wasteful practices such as hosing off sidewalks, driveways and other hardscapes.
“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” said Governor Brown. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”
In April of last year Governor Brown issued an executive order that mandated a 25 percent water use reduction by users of urban water supplies across California. An updated and extended emergency regulation was adopted by the Board on Feb. 2 and took effect Feb. 11. Turlock’s new conservation standard is 29 percent and for March the community reached 26.3 percent of the savings goal. The March rate was a considerable improvement from February when Turlock only conserved 10.2 percent of the 32 percent goal.
For the fifth consecutive year, dry conditions persist in many areas of the state, with limited drinking water supplies in some communities, diminished water for agricultural production and environmental habitat, and severely depleted groundwater basins. The executive order calls for long-term improvements to local drought preparation across the state, and directs the State Water Resources Control Board to develop proposed emergency water restrictions for 2017 if the drought persists.
According to City of Turlock's Director of Municipal Services Michael Cooke, what the executive order does is change the state's approach from blanket regulations to locally-developed conservation standards based upon each city or each water agency's specific circumstances.
"Turlock's circumstances as a groundwater-only system are different to someone else who may have a surface supply," said Cooke.
"Eighty-three percent of the state gets its water from surface water; they've seen the snow and they've seen the rain, the reservoirs are filled up and they think that's the end of the drought so they want different conservation standards," he continued.
"Turlock, on the other hand, gets all of it potable water from groundwater and we've seen no recovery yet in the aquifers. Despite the rain, there's no recovery of the aquifers, we're still at an all-time low like it was this time last year and so the continuation of conservation in Turlock will continue to protect that groundwater supply and we'll stick to the two-day a week watering schedule. Over time, obviously we're working to get a surface water supply, but that's three to five years away.
"Until the aquifers recover, we'll have to stick with the restrictions in water use for the time being."
The executive order increases the number of irrigation districts that must file water management plans by lowering the threshold from irrigation districts that serve 25,000 acres or more to those that serve 10,000 acres or more.
The Turlock Irrigation District serves 150,000 acres and has had an Ag Water Management Plan since 2012, as was mandated by the Water Conservation Act of 2009, also known as Senate Bill X7-7, which required all agricultural water agencies to strengthen and increase water use efficiency through the preparation and adoption of a SB X7-7 compliant water plan. TID's Ag Water Management Plan was updated in November 2015 and can be found online at: http://www.tid.org/water/water-management/agricultural-water-management-plan.
The new executive order, however, tasks the Department of Water Resources to work with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, local water suppliers and ag producers to update requirements for the Water Management Plans, with an updated draft to be released by Jan. 10, 2017.
The full text of the Governor's Executive Order and can be found online at: www.gov.ca.gov/docs/5.9.16_Executive_Order.pdf