Standing on “on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” California Governor Jerry Brown on April 1 imposed the state’s first-ever drought-related mandatory water restrictions.
Although it was a date auspicious for pranks, this was anything but an April Fool’s joke.
“This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Brown said in a statement delivered at a news conference during the annual measure of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides 30 percent of the state’s water. "Therefore, I'm issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible."
The measures include implementing and enforcing water-saving methods, upping enforcement and water-usage-monitoring efforts, streamlining government responses and investing in new technologies for efficient water use, the governor’s office said.
Brown delivered his remarks as California Cooperative Snow Survey Program head Frank Gehrke informed reporters that the field where they were standing should have been five to six feet deep in snow, The New York Times reported. This year the Sierra Nevada snowpack is six percent of normal, and since the snowmelt released throughout the summer is what replenishes the waterways and reservoirs, the situation is one of crisis, Brown said.
The governor issued an executive order mandating the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce a 25 percent reduction in water use from 2013 levels by within the next year. The 400 local agencies that supply water to California are charged with implementing, enforcing and monitoring the changes.
The restrictions, which don’t apply to large agricultural operations, were mainly geared toward urban areas, the Los Angeles Times reported. They affect “homeowners, farms and other businesses, as well as the maintenance of cemeteries and golf courses,” The New York Times said. At the individual level that means not watering lawns or washing cars, among other restrictions.
A year ago Brown called for voluntary restrictions; these are the first mandatory ones in the state’s history. And last month a NASA scientist estimated that the state had but one year of water left.
“The current drought in California is devastating,” Representative Kevin McCarthy, R-California, told The New York Times, advocating for major water projects that would increase supply. “Today’s order from the governor should not only alarm Californians, but the entire nation should take notice that the most productive agriculture state in the country has entered uncharted territory. I’m from the Central Valley, and we know that we cannot conserve or ration our way out of this drought.”
Several California tribes have declared drought emergencies over the past year, among them the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.
Scientists have said that while the drought most likely was not caused by climate change, it is certainly exacerbated by it.
“The drought is made of two components: not enough rain and too much heat,” Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told The New York Times. “The rain deficit isn’t clearly connected to climate change, but the planetary warming has made it more likely that the weather would be hotter in California.”