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The California government is restricting water use for the first time in history

A sign reading "Our Drought Is Serious" is pictured on the side of a road in Bakersfield, California November 9, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn
Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn
Drastic times call for drastic measures.
  • Gwynn Guilford
By Gwynn Guilford


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

California governor Jerry Brown ordered mandatory water use reductions (pdf) in a bid to slash state usage by a quarter—the first time in the history of the state that such cuts have been decreed.

Brown issued the executive order while attending the state water department’s manual survey of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains. For the first time in 75 years, the department found no snow whatsoever. As California rounds the calendar into the dry season, that lack of snow makes it all but certain that the state will suffer its fourth straight year of drought.

"California's Most Significant Droughts," California Department of Water Resources

Implementation and enforcement of the cuts will fall to California’s 400 local water supply agencies. In addition to the required reductions, Brown’s executive order bans the watering of grass patches on the medians of public streets and forces golf courses and cemeteries to curtail consumption. New rules announced last month require restaurants to serve water only to customer who ask for it, and for hotels to give guests a chance to decline freshly laundered towels and sheets.

Though California droughts occur periodically, the state lacks an official definition. Facing what looked to be the driest year on record, Brown declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014, directing state officials to do everything possible to prepare for water shortages and asking citizens to voluntarily cut back their usage by a fifth. California has struggled even to meet that goal, reports the New York Times (paywall). Here’s how snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada looked when the 2014 state of emergency was declared, versus the prior year:

NASA, via "California's Most Significant Droughts," California Department of Water Resources
Comparing Sierra Nevada snowpack in two Januaries, illustrating the extremely dry conditions in early 2014.

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