More than a million people don’t have reliable access to clean water in severely drought-stricken California. Governor Brown emphasized the severity of the “wake-up call” measures and said their impact would test the state’s ability to work together, as he ordered a 25 percent overall cutback in water use. He added that his executive order should serve as a wake-up call for Californians given that voluntary measures failed last year. Brown’s push for voluntary conservation yielded mixed results. Asked by Brown in January 2014 to cut their water consumption by 20 percent, Californians achieved only about half that.
“This executive order is done under emergency power and it has the force of law. It’s very unusual and it’s requiring action and changes in behavior from the Oregon border all the way to the Mexican border,” he said. These are the first mandatory water restrictions in state history.
The crackdown comes as California and its nearly 40 million residents move toward a fourth summer of drought with no relief in sight. State reservoirs have a year’s worth of water, and with record low snowfall over the winter there won’t be much to replenish them. Wells in some parts of the state are going dry as groundwater levels fall.
The 25 percent cut in water consumption ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown raises fundamental questions about what life in California will be like in the years ahead, and even whether this state faces the prospect of people leaving for wetter climates — assuming, as Mr. Brown and other state leaders do, that this marks a permanent change in the climate, rather than a particularly severe cyclical drought. The new restrictions, if obeyed and enforced with certainly spell the end of lush green lawns such as the one pictured above.
Many are wondering if the severity of this drought, now in its fourth year, is going to force a change in the way the state does business. Can Los Angeles continue to dominate as the country’s capital of entertainment and glamour, and Silicon Valley as the center of high tech, if people are forbidden to take a shower for more than five minutes and water bills become prohibitively expensive?
The 25 percent reduction does not apply to farms, which consume the great bulk of this state’s water.
State officials signaled on Friday that reductions in water supplies for farmers were likely to be announced in the coming weeks, and there is also likely to be increased pressure on the farms to move away from certain water-intensive crops — like almonds.
Affluent Southern California communities with lots of landscaping on automatic timers were some of the worst offenders, topping 300 gallons of water per person a day compared with 70 gallons for some San Francisco Bay Area communities.
Homeowners will get rebates for replacing lawns with greenery more suited to the semi-arid state and for installing more water-thrifty appliances and plumbing fixtures. The state also will press water agencies to impose higher, graduated rates to discourage water guzzling.
Some water experts and economists are dubious the crackdown will succeed.
Californians will embrace saving water if they feel everyone is doing the same, water experts said. Brown’s cutback order, however, exempts agriculture, which consumes 80 percent of all the water that Californians use. ‘In times of scarcity, human nature is to do one’s share if you think others are making similar sacrifices,’ said Jonas Minton, a former senior state water official, now an adviser to the California-based Planning and Conservation League policy group. ‘When it appears others are taking more than their share, it can be reduced to every person for themselves.’