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Standing in a brown field that would normally be smothered in several feet of snow, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered cities and towns across California to cut water use by 25% as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions, the first in state history.
The directive comes more than a year after Brown asked for a 20% voluntary cut in water use that most parts of the state have failed to attain, even as one of the most severe modern droughts drags into a fourth year. It also came on the day that water officials measured the lowest April 1 snowpack in more than 60 years of record-keeping in the Sierra Nevada.
Emphasizing that the drought could persist, Brown said Californians must change their water habits.
It’s a different world, he said.
We have to act differently.
The order focused on urban life even though agriculture accounts for roughly three quarters of Californians’ water usage. Cities have to stop watering the median strips that run down the middle of roads. The state will partner with local agencies to remove 50 million square feet of grass — the equivalent of about 1,150 football fields — and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping.
State agencies will create a temporary rebate program to encourage homeowners to replace water-guzzling appliances with high-efficiency ones. Golf courses, campuses and cemeteries must cut their water use. New developments will have to install drip or microspray systems if they irrigate with drinking water. Water agencies will discourage water waste with higher rates and fees.
The order aims to reduce the amount of water used statewide in urban areas in 2013 by 25%.
Some critics of Brown’s order said it didn’t do enough to address agricultural uses. Adam Scow, director of Food & Water Watch California, called the order disappointing.
The governor must save our groundwater from depletion by directing the state water board to protect groundwater as a public resource, Scow said in a statement.
Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, said the measure isn’t about
It’s about everybody having to step up in these tough times.
The water board will release draft regulations in mid-April to implement the order. It plans to approve the regulations in early May.
Marcus said local agencies will receive targets for cutting water use based on how well they’ve done so far
Most of the burden of enforcement will fall on local agencies.
If they don’t follow the governor’s order, the state can fine them as much as $10,000 a day.
Many Southern California agencies are already taking steps called for in Brown’s order. For instance, under a turf rebate program administered by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, spokesman Bob Muir said homeowners are planning to remove almost 89 million square feet of turf, the equivalent of more than 59,000 frontyards. It’s unclear whether Brown’s mandate for 50 million square feet of lawn replacement includes work already done by local agencies. Similarly, Los Angeles already has a tiered water-rate structure to encourage conservation.
Although Southern California water managers said it might be tough for some cities to meet the 25% target, they welcomed Brown’s action.
Source: Chris Megerian, Matt Stevens, and Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times