California drought prompts 25 percent mandatory cutbacks

Sarah Gardner and Gina Delvac Apr 2, 2015
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California drought prompts 25 percent mandatory cutbacks

Sarah Gardner and Gina Delvac Apr 2, 2015
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We’re not quite there yet, but it’s entirely possible that the not-so-distant future in California includes two-minute showers, brown lawns, and — heaven forbid — unwashed cars.

Governor Jerry Brown ordered the first mandatory water cuts in California’s history on Wednesday. Local water districts will be required to cut per-capita consumption by 25 percent.

The question on the minds of many Californians and other drought-watchers: what took the state this long?

“For some reason during this drought, [they] have not stepped up the way they have in earlier droughts, which is somewhat alarming to us,” says Felicia Marcus, chair of California’s Water Resources Control Board. “There really is, obviously, a need for greater state leadership.”

Brown made his announcement at Tahoe, where officials measure the snowpack each spring. Sierra Nevada snowmelt trickles into rivers and aqueducts and accounts for about a third of the state’s drinking water. 

Marketplace sustainability reporter Sarah Gardner has the key details:

  • The cuts will be handled at the local level. There are over 400 water districts in California. 
  • Districts that have already reduced consumption won’t have to meet the full 25 percent target.
  • Some districts in Orange and San Diego Counties still tick off 500 gallons of water consumption, per person, per day. 
  • Over half of residential water use goes to maintaining lawns and gardens. 
  • Agriculture, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of water consumption in California, is not subject to these mandatory cutbacks. 

In short, Gardner says, this mandate is all about urban use, which may prove controversial among city-dwellers who resent agriculture’s overwhelming share of water. Farmers counter that the state produces half of the US-grown nuts, vegetables and fruit. 

“Governor Brown made a point, yesterday, of sort of defending agriculture,” Gardner says.

A sign April 3, 2015 over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles reminds drivers of the severe drought and to limit outdoor watering.

A sign April 3, 2015 over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles reminds drivers of the severe drought and to limit outdoor watering.

“He said, farmers, specifically those with junior water rights have already had a lot of cutbacks. State officials talked, too, about all the land that’s been fallowed. They are not ready to challenge this centuries-old water rights system.”

Gardner added, the mandatory cuts will only intensify the debate over who gets how much water in California, and for what purpose. 

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