Brown orders historic water cuts

Frank Gehrke, left, the state's chief snow surveyor, and Gov. Jerry Brown at Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada. Brown announced his executive order minutes later.(Photo: AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

Gov. Jerry Brown, standing in bright sunshine in a brown Sierra Nevada field usually deep in snow, ordered unprecedented measures across California to deal with the state’s historic drought, including 25 percent cuts for residents and businesses.

The governor, noting that the mountain snowpack was at a historic low, issued an executive order making the reductions mandatory. “As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible,” Brown said.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action.”

The benchmark for the reductions is 2013: The water reductions in the executive order will be calculated from the 2013 base year.

The order requires local water agencies across the state to adjust their rate structures to ensure that conservation goes forward in an equitable way.  Officials should “require that those areas with high per-capita use achieve proportionally greater reductions than those with low use.”

Brown accompanied state water officials to Echo Summit east of Sacramento where a state survey team regularly measures the snow density and water content.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” he said.

The governor’s sweeping, seven-page order requires state officials to crack down on people who illegally divert water and on those who waste it. New developments would be barred from using drinking water for irrigation, unless they use water-saving drip irrigation systems.

The snow pack “is at historic low levels, which means there will be abysmally little runoff to replenish reservoirs and groundwater basins that are already straining under four consecutive dry years,” said John Coleman, president of the 450-member Association of California Water Agencies. “The combination of dry conditions and record-warm temperatures has put us in an unprecedented drought that requires an extraordinary response.”

According to the governor’s office, the 25 percent reduction would save an estimated 1.5 million acre feet over nine months. An acre foot of water is approximately 325,000 gallons, or about the amount a family of four uses in a year.

The order also:

–Requires the replacement of 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with “drought tolerant landscape,” with the state working in partnership with local governments.

–Sets up a program of consumer rebates so people can turn replace older, inefficient appliances with new equipment that saves water and energy.

–Forces golf courses, campuses, cemeteries and “other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water.”

–Bans water or ornamental grass on public street medians.

–Ramps up enforcement on areas where the reporting of groundwater data is incomplete, and toughens requirements for farm-belt districts to report and monitor water usage.

–Updates standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities.

–Makes permanent monthly reporting of local water usage, conservation and enforcement actions.

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