Brown Orders Mandatory Water Curbs for California Drought

April 2, 2015 06:25 PM
Brown Orders Mandatory Water Curbs for California Drought

Governor Jerry Brown ordered California’s first mandatory water restrictions as the drought gripping the state enters a fourth year.

Brown issued an executive order seeking a mandatory 25 percent reduction in use and a requirement that new homes feature water-efficient irrigation if the builder plans to use potable water for landscaping. He also called for 50 million square feet of lawns to be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping and required campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to cut back on water.

“This historic drought demands unprecedented actions,” Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement.

State scientists Wednesday took the season’s final reading of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which supplies California’s farms and urban centers, and found that it stood at just 6 percent of normal. Record-low rain has left reservoirs less than half full, leading to water rationing that has laid fallow much of the nation’s most productive agricultural region.

Some communities have restricted use to a fraction of usual levels, while the cost of buying water and drilling wells has skyrocketed. Residents already face fines of as much as $500 day for wasting water outdoors.

The executive order allows water agencies to raise rates to encourage conservation and discourage waste. The agriculture industry will be required to report more usage information to regulators. Brown’s order also strengthens standards for management plans required by agricultural water districts.

Rule Enforcers

Municipalities and water districts are charged with implementing restrictions, and employees who are empowered to enforce the rules are allowed to issue tickets. Until now, most cities and towns have chosen first to issue warnings and to impose fines only on repeat offenders.

About 80 percent of California’s water goes toward its $48.8 billion industry producing dairy, beef, eggs, fruits, nuts and vegetables. The state’s San Joaquin Valley, sandwiched between coastal hills and the Sierra Nevada, is the most productive agricultural region in the world.

Brown, 76, has been under pressure to impose restrictions after hopes for a wetter-than-usual winter to replenish reservoirs subsided with the end of March. A dry spring left San Francisco with 89 percent of its usual rainfall and Los Angeles with 64 percent, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

Home Builders

The restrictions comes after the the California Water Resources Control Board in March prohibited residents from watering lawns within 48 hours after a rain storm and limited watering to just two days a week. Restaurants and bars can serve water only if asked by a customer. Hotel and motel operators must offer patrons the option of not having towels and linens washed daily. Residents and businesses face fines for failing to follow the rules.

Brown’s order isn’t a burden for homebuilders who already face strict building codes that limit water use, such as requiring low-flow showers, faucets and toilets, said Mark Knorringa, chief executive officer of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.

“I don’t believe it will be a big shock,” Knorringa said in a telephone interview from his office in Irvine. “We’re already building the most efficient homes in the country.”

Already Efficient

New homes use almost 50 percent less tap water than houses built in 2005 because developers have installed drought-tolerant plants irrigated with recycled water, he said. High land costs also limit the size of lots, reducing areas devoted to lawns, he said.

The bigger impact will be on older homes, especially the 7.5 million residences built before codes enacted after the 1970s drought, he said. Those often have bigger yards and lack water-saving plumbing fixtures.

“That’s where the real water savings can occur,” he said.

Brown’s executive order proposed a statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with water-saving and energy-efficient models.

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