Governor Brown Announces Statewide Water Reductions — But No Restrictions on Agriculture


  • Joaquin Palomino / file photo
  • San Joaquin Valley.
In the wake of reports that California is down to only one year of water supplies in its reservoirs, Governor Jerry Brown announced today the first-ever statewide mandatory water reductions and new enforcement efforts to prevent wasteful water use. While strict and progressive regulations are much needed now, environmentalists are criticizing Brown's plan for failing to include restrictions on agriculture.

As we recently reported, the state's agricultural interests use 80 percent of the available water every year, but only represent 2 percent of California's economy. Still, Brown's new executive order simply requires agricultural water users to "report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state's ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water," the governor's office announced. (This is apparently not much of a new requirement, but rather a restatement of existing regulations). 

See Also: 
Dieting for Drought 
Water Transfers Threaten Fish and Tribes

Brown's executive order also strengthens standards for the "Agricultural Water Management Plans" that large water districts already have to submit and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans, which the governor's office said will help the industry prepare for the possibility of the drought extending into 2016. But environmental groups have argued that the state should target water use on non-essential crops. (For example, California is currently producing so many almonds that at least 70 percent of the crop is sold overseas). 

As part of the executive order, the governor's office has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to enact mandatory water reductions in cities throughout the state with the goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. Those savings amount to roughly 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months or nearly as much water as is currently in Lake Oroville, according to the governor's announcement. 

The order will also:
-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.
In terms of enforcement, the order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement what's known as "conservation pricing," which is designed to create financial incentives to limit water use. The state will further take action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have declined to share data on their water supplies. The order additionally updates standards for toilets, faucets, and outdoor landscaping in residential communities — and compels the state to take action against communities that refuse to comply with the standards. 

You can read the full executive order here, and for more on the role of agriculture in the drought, check out our recent story, "California Targets Wrong Water Wasters," and last year's cover story, "California's Thirsty Almonds."