Residents and businesses have been ordered to cut water use by at least 25 percent, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered Wednesday, including restrictions on watering of lawns, golf courses and highway landscaping.
“We’re standing on dry ground and we should be standing on 5 feet of snow,” Brown said at a snow-measuring station in the Sierra Nevada mountains, according to the Reuters news service.
“This is rationing,” he said.
Brown made the announcement from the mountain range that usually provides a third of the state’s drinking water through runoff from usually snow-covered peaks.
But this year, a fourth consecutive dry winter means the winter snowpack is at less than 2 percent of normal, Brown said.
The governor said industrial parks and golf courses would be required to immediately cut water usage by 25 percent and that homeowners would be encouraged to replace inefficient appliances with new water-saving devices and to eliminate water-dependent lawns through a state-rebate program.
The new cuts are expected to save 1.5 million acre-feet of water in the next nine months, Brown said.
But California farmers, by far the largest users of water in the state, were exempted from the new reductions because they already have been subject to major cutbacks in distribution from state sources for three years, Reuters said.
Under the plan, cuts will be implemented by state and local water agencies, and different parts of the state will be forced to reduce water use more than others.
Felicia Marcus of the California’s State Water Resources Control Board said regulators would not be shy in issuing fines of up to $10,000 a day to water districts that fail to make the required cutbacks.
Among the new rules expected is a ban on lawns for new homes unless the properties are equipped with drip or microspray watering systems.
Brown also ordered agencies supplying the state’s farmland with irrigation water to develop new plans for managing the supply during drought.
Growers were forced to fallow thousands of acres of cropland last year to deal with soaring water prices and cuts in the amounts they were allowed to buy from state and federal water projects.
Hundreds of thousands of additional acres are likely to be fallow this year, too, and farmers are expected to remove trees and vineyards dependent on irrigation, state secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross told reporters.
Brown signed emergency legislation last week that fast-tracked over $1 billion in funding for drought relief and water infrastructure in the state.