On Wednesday California Gov. Jerry Brown announced the first ever mandatory water reduction measures to be implemented in communities across the state, a testament to the severity of the ongoing drought that promises to be problematic in the upcoming summer months.
“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Brown. “Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reduction across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”
While saving water is the aim of the order, Brown also vocalized the importance of increasing enforcement, streamlining government response, and investing in new technologies during the drought to prepare for the unknown future.
Measures to save water include partnering with local governments to replace 50 million square feet of lawns through the state with drought tolerant landscaping and banning watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.
“The good thing is we’ve been doing a pretty good job, but the governor has upped the ante a little bit,” said City of Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke.
Cooke noted that last year’s mandatory water conservation percentage has increased from 20 percent to 25 percent and regulations have become even more specific, such as the specificity of abolishing the watering of turf grass in landscape medians.
While the state is prohibiting new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water and creating a temporary statewide rebate program to replace old appliance with more energy and water efficient models, Cooke said any further restrictions specific to Turlock residents rest with the City Manager.
“We’re ready this year, our usage is down already and last year’s is down from year before, so we’re moving in the right direction,” said Cooke. “We have been planning for this already, but we’ve got to move ahead a bit quickly than before.”
The Governor is also requiring large facilities, like campuses and golf courses, to make significant cuts to their water usage.
“The university has always taken its obligations to the state, the people and the environment very seriously and has implemented a number of water-saving measures to date. We will study the governor’s executive order and assess our plans to ensure we are in compliance and are conserving as much water as possible on campus,” said California State University, Stanislaus spokesperson Tim Lynch.
Lynch said the University also plans to install meters to track water use at various sites and explore the possibility of reclaiming water from HVAC systems to use for irrigation. There is also a plan to reduce the amount of lawn and turf around campus and replace some with drought-tolerant plants.
In an effort to increase enforcement, water agencies will be required to adjust their rate structure with conservation pricing to discourage waste. Agricultural users will also have to report their water use information to state regulators. The California Farm Water Coalition released a statement in support of the Governor’s new requirements:
"Identifying illegal diversions and wasteful use of water will benefit the state's overall water supply. Whether on the farm or in urban areas, illegal water diversions and wasteful use must stop. We have a system of water rights in California that everyone should abide by. Anyone who is circumventing the law should be identified and face the consequences.”
Other actions required include updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and mandating that local water suppliers report water usage, conservation, and enforcement actions.
The Governor’s interest in streamlining government processes is aimed at making the review process for voluntary water transfers and emergency drinking water projects easier and also directs state departments to help families on properties whose well has run dry by providing them with assistance to temporary relocate. He is also prioritizing the state review of water projects by requiring state agencies to report to the Governor’s Office on any application pending by more than 90 days. Lastly, the permitting and review of emergency drought salt water content barriers, which keep freshwater supplies in upstream reservoirs for human use and habitat protection for endangered species, have been listed as a priority in the order.
Congressman Jeff Denham (R – Turlock) released a statement on Wednesday in response to the Governor’s order and lamented that there was no emphasis on storing water for the future, something he expressed as key to California’s water supply.
“In 2009, water agencies throughout California predicted that the new requirements placed on our state’s water system would leave us with no water during a prolonged drought. Fishery agencies and environmental groups balked, claiming this day would never come. With the fourth year of drought upon us, these kinds of policies are hurting California farmers, families and the environment, as Governor Brown’s announcement today shows. Decades of inaction have finally caught up with California’s refusal to build new storage. Conservation alone isn’t the answer,” said Denham.
The Governor is looking ahead in the sense that he stated investing in new technologies as a priority. With the hope of making California more water efficient he announced planes to administer a program through the California Energy Commission to incentivize promising new technology.