This year California has seen the lowest snowpack ever recorded, which was a disaster for the winter ski tourism industry and poses dangers of wildfires this summer and fall. But the dry winter has also exacerbated the state’s ongoing drought crisis. To that end, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order that he said is necessary in order to make California drought resistant.
The governor made the announcement while visiting a California Department of Water Resources snow survey in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Phillips Station, located in El Dorado County near the Nevada border. "Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Gov. Brown said.
The executive order calls for increased water conservation, increased enforcement, a streamlined state government response and investment in new water technologies.
Many of the water conservation measures make logical sense. Gov. Brown ordered that 50 million square feet of grass lawns be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping. Consumers could benefit from a temporary rebate program that would allow them to replace older, water-hogging appliances with more water-efficient models. School campuses, cemeteries and golf courses would have to make cuts in their water consumption. New homes and developments will also be banned from using potable water for irrigation landscaping unless water-efficient drip systems are installed.
“Every Californian should take steps to conserve water,” Gov. Brown said in a press release, an obvious statement that will irritate many Californians. After all, many have already cut their water usage, as leaders and residents of Los Angeles would say, and for good reason: The city uses less water than it did 30 years ago — with 1 million more people added to its population.
The order also requires local water management boards to change their fee structures in order to promote more water conservation. Water agencies will be penalized if they do not share data on their groundwater supplies with Sacramento, and these local boards will also have to report their water usage, conservation measures and enforcement actions on a monthly basis.
With some analysts suggesting the state has only one year of water reserves left, the governor’s executive order also urges state agencies to make decisions at a faster pace (with the drought two years in the running, it is head-scratching to think these agencies could not have made faster decisions in the first place). Streamlined permitting, simplified review and approval processes for voluntary water transfers, and relocation assistance to families in communities where wells have run dry are among the directives the governor outlined in the executive order. Finally, the California Energy Commission is tasked with developing incentive programs that will bring water technology initiatives faster to market.
Californians, who overall are among the most energy- and water-efficient citizens in the United States, need to prepare themselves for this new normal. What is most worrisome is the drought’s impact on the state’s economy, which only recently has emerged into recovery from the 2007-2009 housing and fiscal crises. TriplePundit readers have sent emails to me saying they may consider moving out of the state within a year if they are not convinced the state is serious about developing a solid long-term water plan. Republicans, of course, while generally supportive of bolstering California’s water system, are quick to point fingers at Democrats; in fairness, however, no leader has really taken on an ambitious, long-term approach to California’s infrastructure since Gov. Brown’s father, Pat Brown, was the state's governor from 1959 to 1967.
And while the threats to the state’s water supply should worry all residents, many will question why this executive order largely singles out residents when agriculture consumes 80 percent of the state’s water.
Image credit: Leon Kaye
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.