California drought impact

April 20, 2015

It was no coincidence that California Gov. Jerry Brown announced his recent water-conservation directive from a dry-grass field in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Numbers don’t lie, and this year’s snowpack measurements for that area were a paltry 5% of the April 1st average. Even sadder, that figure represents a 65-year low.

Drastic moves were made in Sacramento to deal with California’s ongoing drought, moves which culminated in the governor proposing a 25% across-the-board cut in water usage. This measure may come off as draconian to some, while to others it may seem like a long-overdue first step. Either way, the new rules have real-world implications that will be felt by Californians from San Diego to Humboldt County.

Mandatory conservation

It’s also no coincidence that Brown was unequivocal in his statements regarding the new regulations. This is because the previous 20% voluntary water-usage cut Brown proposed in 2014 has gone unheeded in most parts of the state. Now brown is targeting cities and farms—and this time no one is asking.


Rarely does screaming, “The sky is falling!” ever solve a problem; incentivizing the way to a solution is far more productive. In the immediate, local agencies will bear the brunt of the new restrictions, so they’re the ones who will have to adhere most rigidly to the new policies. That’s because if they don’t, they face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

But many of these agencies are already ahead of the curve. For example, turf replacement is one of Brown’s key goals, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has nearly 60,000 homes earmarked for lawn replacement—all achieved through a turf-rebate program. State agencies are also planning givebacks for those homeowners who replace water-wasting appliances with higher efficiency models.

Agriculture shortages

California’s Central Valley is responsible for much of the produce in the state, and it represents 11% of total U.S. agriculture production. But aside from those senior farmers guaranteed rights by a federal water project, there are no incentives to be had in this protracted dry spell. In short: most growers are on their own. If the drought continues, as most experts predict it will, then the only recourse farmers have is to let more acres lie idle during the growing season. And there’s only so much cropland that can go unplanted before it translates to a lack of food on the dinner plate.

Of course, to find a way out of this mess there needs to be multiple solutions. Certain technologies, such as desalination, seem encouraging, but mass implementation is still a long way off. In the here and now California is experiencing a record drought, one that isn’t likely to abate. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that officials are making bold decrees from snowless meadows.

Feature photo by photographer Gerhard Bock

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