California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Monday making some of the state’s temporary drought restrictions permanent.
Brown’s order directs state water officials to develop new, permanent water conservation guidelines for state water agencies. It also permanently prohibits wasteful water practices, including hosing down sidewalks and irrigating street and highway medians.
The order comes as California enters a fifth year of record drought, during which many of the state’s reservoirs remain at lower-than-average levels. The current Pacific El Niño helped fill the reservoirs and initially contributed to a more stable snowpack over the winter, but the arrival of summer will likely bring many more rainless months.
“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” Brown said in a statement accompanying the order. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”
The order directs the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control board to develop new water use targets as part of a “permanent framework” for water agencies, with an eye toward hitting the 20 percent statewide reduction goal by 2020. The order also makes permanent the requirement that water agencies issue a monthly report on water usage, and on any enforcement actions they take in response to waste.
Additionally, the state’s Water Shortage Contingency Plans and Agricultural Water Management Plans will be updated to reflect the danger of prolonged and frequent droughts.
Brown first issued mandatory water conservation restrictions in April 2015, the first such restrictions in state history. The order called for a 25 percent statewide reduction in water use, and was later changed to 20 percent as most water agencies complied with the order and reduced usage.
Between June 2015 and March of this year, Californians reduced water usage by 23.9 percent over the same period in 2013, an impressive figure that nevertheless fell just short of Brown’s initial order. Californians cut water use 24.3 percent in March of this year, more than double the amount conserved in February, a figure that Water Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus called “stunningly welcome.”
“As we head into the warm summer months, we need to keep conserving,” Marcus said. “We may not need the same levels of conservation as last year, but we still need to keep all we can in our reservoirs and groundwater basins in case this winter is just a punctuation mark in a longer drought.”
The Brown administration will reportedly seek public input on the executive order and on other potential conservation methods in the coming months.
The United States Drought Monitor currently shows 49 percent of California in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, while nearly 75 percent of the state is in “severe” drought.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum