Restriction in response to record lows of snowpack, projected indefinite drought
On April 1 Governor Jerry Brown announced the first statewide emergency mandatory water restriction which aims to reduce municipalities’ water usage. The water restriction would enforce a 25 percent reduction in water usage, projected to save 1.5 acre-feet of water over the next nine months.
The announcement includes replacing 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping, creating a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program that promotes the use of more energy and water efficient appliances.
“The governor moved from a voluntary to a mandatory structure and he is asking a 25 percent savings of urban water users… the emphasis is on landscaping. Landscaping and outdoor water use in urban areas is a place where a lot of savings can be made, ” said Tim Moran, public information officer of the California State Water Board.
According to the governor’s website, local water agencies are ordered to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, the idea that water usage will decrease with the increase in price of water. The state will also increase monitoring of decision-making of water infrastructure projects, requiring state agencies to report to the Governor’s Office on any application pending for more than 90 days. The policy also refers to the freshwater supplies in upstream reservoirs for human use and habitat protection for endangered and threatened species, streamlining “permission and review of emergency drought salinity barriers”, including emergency drinking water projects.
The enforcement of the order will be done by individual water districts, who report to the State Water Board on a monthly basis. According to Moran, the State Water Board is authorized to issue fines that can go up to $10,000 per day.
“I think we’ve worked with them to get them into compliance before it takes place,” Moran said.
Moran also asserts that since it is an emergency order, it will take effect for 270 days and can be renewed to extend the period. The order is heavily targeted to large landscapes, such as golf courses and campuses. The reduction will be compared to a 2013 baseline, according to Moran. Cities such as Davis, that have already implemented water reduction policies, will not be affected by this newly implemented order.
“We are using the 2013 baseline to measure how much people are saving. The places that have been saving all along won’t have to do this dramatic changes,” Moran said.
Although the new policy also requires agricultural users to report more water use information to state regulators, the restriction displays a new approach to the drought condition that does not focus on the agriculture sector. According to Wendy Fink-Weber, senior director of communications of Western Growers, an agricultural trade association, farmers have already lost a large amount of water and there are reportedly approximately 17,000 jobs lost due to the drought and water usage policies. According to Wendy, the state water allocation announced in January will allow the agriculture sector to receive 20 percent of the water, however the farmers affected by the Central Valley Project who receive federal water, will receive none from the state water allocation.
“Agriculture has taken a lot of hit during the drought through our water rights system. Over 400,000 acres of farmland [were hit], and there was a lot lost in farm workers jobs. They suffered quite a bit during this drought,” Moran said.
According to Richard Tsai, senior utility resource specialist for the City of Davis, Davis has implemented several water reduction policies, including resolution 14-124 which implemented emergency regulations in relation to water during the drought starting September 2014. The resolution includes prohibiting usage of water in street and sidewalk cleaning, gutter flooding and limiting car wash facilities to only using recycled water.
There are also restrictions on when to water the outdoors, which is not allowed between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. except when watering with a hand-held container or hose with a shut-off nozzle or for very short periods when adjusting a sprinkler system. The policy also encouraged several technological improvement in water usage, such as the reparation of irrigation systems including sprinkler heads, valves, and main lines, and an upgrade in irrigation controllers, radio communications and flow sensors.
According to Tsai, the city wells collectively pumped 16.5 percent less water in 2014 compared to 2013. In addition to that, the city had a reduction of 4.7 percent for the first quarter of 2015 compared to the first quarter of 2014. The City of Davis has reached out to the community through SaveDavisWater.org, Utility Bill messages and WaterSmart workshops.
Graphic by Jennifer Wu.