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Brown Issues Mandatory Water Conservation Order For California

Jae C. Hong / AP

This May 1, 2014, file photo shows irrigation water runs along a dried-up ditch between rice farms in Richvale, California.

Jae C. Hong / AP

It was no April Fool’s joke: Wednesday’s snow survey measured the Sierra snowpack at a record-low 5 percent of normal. That prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to impose California’s first ever mandatory water restrictions.

"People should realize, we're in a new era," the governor said near Lake Tahoe, after watching the state Department of Water Resources conduct the snow survey. "The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day - that's gonna be a thing of the past."

Frank Gehrke with the California Department of Water Resources stood in a bare, dry field that in a typical year would be covered with five feet of snow.

“And this is the first year in its measurements going back to 1942 where this snow course has been bare,” he said.

The governor picked that backdrop to announce mandatory water restrictions in California for the first time ever.

“We’re in an historic drought, and that demands unprecedented action,” he said. 

Brown said he had tried asking for reductions: “I called for 20 percent voluntary, and we’re gonna get more like 9 percent. That’s not enough.”

So his executive order mandates a 25 percent urban water cut. “There will be some heartache here. There will be some who will have different views. But this is my best judgment.”

State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus says her agency will set targets based on how well each region is already reducing water use, “meaning that we have to come up with a sliding scale where those who have been conserving longer, and use less, will have lower targets than those that have just started conserving, or use more.”

But she says every Californian will have to do more.

Brown's order also sets aside money for drought-tolerant landscaping and water-efficient appliance rebates. It mandates that golf courses and other large landscapes reduce their water usage. And it speeds up the review and permitting processes for water projects.


Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio