Progress on California Drought

The scene was bleak on April 1 as California Governor Jerry Brown attended the annual snow measuring ceremony at the top of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Where the crowd would normally stand atop six feet of snow for the ceremony, they stood upon dry grass. This year the Sierra Nevada mountain range had the lowest ever recorded cover of snow on April 1 since measurements began in 1950. Statewide snow measurements for the rest of the Sierra Nevadas showed 5% of the average snow cover for this time of year, providing a foreboding warning to Californians to reduce their water usage.

California draws around 30% of its annual water supply from snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas. With the dismal snow cover to supplement the ground water supply, Californians will have to make major changes in their water usage habits. Governor Jerry Brown has already issued an executive order, mandating a 25% reduction in statewide water usage from California’s 2013 usage levels. In 2014 the state attempted to implement a voluntary 20% water usage reduction, but few towns reduced their water use, and even fewer actually met the goal of 20%.

California has devised several strategies for implementing this water restriction. Each town will be given a specific goal for reduction in consumption based upon per capita water usage. Towns will be forced to stop watering medians in roads, and will instead be encouraged to replace costly grass with drought-friendly foliage. Golf courses, cemeteries, schools, and other areas with large amounts of lawn will be encouraged to drastically cut down on water consumption and reduce the amount they water their lawns. When they do water their lawns, they will be encouraged to use refuse water so they do not deplete the drinkable water supply.

Additionally, towns will be encouraged to implement restrictions for individual use. Towns will encourage individuals to reduce the amount they water their lawns, fining individuals who water their lawns outside of scheduled times. Individuals are forbidden to wash their cars with hoses unless they use shutoff nozzles. The state will offer incentives for individuals to replace older appliances with new, high-efficiency systems. New developments will be required to install efficient drip or microspray systems if they are to irrigate with drinking water as opposed to refuse water. 

In order to encourage a decrease in overall usage statewide and discourage waste, the state will also encourage water agencies to increase premiums with higher rates and fees.

The restriction does not apply to farmers, who make up for approximately 80% of the water use in California. Many suggest mandatory restrictions on farmers as well. This, however, is simply unfeasible, as farmers are already suffering due to water shortages.

Farmers in California have borne the brunt of the drought over the last four years. Water shortages have caused massive increases in the price of water and decreases in overall output by farms. In 2014, many farmers saw increases in water prices by thousands of percent. In the central valley, some farmers even paid as much as $3,000 per acre-foot of water, instead of the average annual price of $60 per acre-foot. Farmers across the state engaged in massive bidding wars, competing to claim their share of the meager water supply.

The water shortage is particularly harmful to farmers who grow orchards, as they do not have the option of letting their farms lie fallow for the year. These farmers are forced to either pay egregious prices to keep their trees alive, or let many their trees die and hope that they will eventually be able to replace them. Either option is not favorable and leads to rising prices in the produce industry.

Despite the complaints that California is not doing enough to combat the drought, what California has done is a good start. It is nearly impossible for a state to cut their water usage as much as people would like, especially in a state with such a thriving agricultural industry like California. 

If California wants to make a real change in their water consumption, it will have to be a slow process. They are already taking great strides by reducing individual, industry, and state consumption by 25%. In times of emergency such as this drought, it is necessary to make sacrifices. The restrictions the state has already suggested will undoubtedly reduce water usage by drastic amounts. 

Additionally, since the start of the 2014/15 rain year on September 30, California has already exceeded the total amount of rain that fell in the 2013/14 rain year. The additional rain should help to alleviate some of the pain from the drought. 

Nonetheless, Californians have a difficult year ahead of them, as will the rest of the people in the United States who purchase the produce from Californian farmers. California’s farmers are engaged in a massive struggle to keep their farms afloat. So remember, you’re not the only one who’s suffering the next time you have to pay an extra $2.00 for guacamole on your burrito.