By Jason KUROSU
After a fourth consecutive year of drought and the lowest snowpack on record, Gov. Jerry Brown has instituted the state’s first ever mandatory water restrictions, which seek to reduce water use by 25% at each of the state’s 411 local water agencies by Feb. 28, 2016.
Among the goals of the governor’s executive order is a statewide initiative for the replacement of 50 million square feet of lawns with drought tolerant landscaping, a rebate program to replace inefficient household appliances such as toilets and faucets, and the prohibition of irrigating with potable water unless it is done through drip irrigation or microspray systems.
The Crescenta Valley Water District will be developing a plan for complying with and enforcing the new restrictions. Specific regulations will be adopted by the California State Water Resources Control Board in early May.
Crescenta Valley Water District General Manager Thomas Love said that a 25% reduction of the district’s water use “is going to be a challenge.”
Love said that CVWD will continue with conservation outreach efforts such as turf rebates and other conservation incentives, but that enforcement will be instrumental in compliance with the new restrictions.
“The last thing we want to do is fine people,” said Love, but added “the state has mandated that we need to put people on notice.”
The restrictions largely target urban water suppliers, despite that 80% of California’s water is used by agriculture. Agricultural water suppliers will be required to develop drought management plans and submit those plans to officials by July 2016, but will not be subjected to the same restrictions.
Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the restrictions would not have a significant impact without reevaluating how the state’s water is managed.
Patzert said that a 25% reduction on municipalities is closer to a 4% to 5% reduction statewide, when agriculture and fracking are not taken into account.
“It’s a lot of headlines without a lot of reduction,” said Patzert. “We have to rethink the equitable redistribution of water in California.”
Patzert did say that a positive effect of the restrictions was conservation awareness by the state’s residents. One such example of the shifting public awareness is at Descanso Gardens, which will be opening a low-water demonstration garden to the public this Friday. The garden features 34 examples of drought-tolerant plants in the Center Circle Garden, which are watered through drip irrigation.
David R. Brown, executive director of Descanso Gardens, said, “We wanted to show people that they can make a beautiful garden while using less water.”
FormLA Landscaping, which designed and built the garden, will hold four “walk and talk” demonstrations over the next year, detailing how residents can create their own drought conscious gardens, saving water without sacrificing aesthetics.
Brown said that growing public interest in creating such gardens will hopefully lead to an increasing supply of drought-tolerant plants available to the public for purchase and use at home.
Patzert believes that lifestyle changes and increased conservation habits are beneficial, but a minute portion of the overall issue that can easily be accomplished without having much effect on the state’s drought conditions.
Patzert said that California residents “could reduce their water use by 25% while standing on one leg with one hand tied behind their back.”
Furthermore, the pattern of rising sea surface temperatures indicates potentially wetter years to come.
“The drought pattern is typically decades of drought followed by decades of increased snowpack and rainfall,” said Patzert, who said that the last lowest snowpack level in 1977 was followed by the wettest year on record at that time, during 1978.
The focus, as it pertains to water restrictions, goes back to the distribution of water.
“It takes about a billion cubic meters of water to supply the entire city of Los Angeles. It takes about 3.5 billion cubic meters to produce all the almonds in California,” said Patzert. “Given the new reality of the drought, we need to take a good hard look at who’s getting the majority of the water.”