Environment & Science

Gov. Brown orders permanent California water conservation due to drought

File: California Gov. Jerry Brown released a statewide budget Thursday, January 7.
File: California Gov. Jerry Brown released a statewide budget Thursday, January 7.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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Gov. Jerry Brown is ordering California to permanently follow some conservation measures taken during the state's drought.

Brown's order on Monday came as water officials considered whether to ease a 25 percent statewide conservation effort for cities and towns. The new proposal does not set a mandatory saving water target.

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” said Brown in a statement. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

These new proposed drought regulations come after El Niño storms left a healthy snowpack and brimming water reservoirs in Northern California, but with nearly 90 percent of the state still in drought.

This is especially true in Southern California, where scarce winter rains did little to fill reservoirs but provided just enough moisture to spur the growth of grasses that could supercharge fires this summer.

State Water Resources Control Board chair Felicia Marcus said this drought was a wake-up call for the state.

"What happened to us these last few years is what will happen more often as climate change accelerates," she explained.

To help prepare for that drier future, the new plan permanently bans spraying down sidewalks, over-watering lawns and washing cars with hoses that don’t have shut-off nozzles.

Brown's executive order also requires cities and towns to continue monthly reporting of water use. However, under a new proposal, each supplier would come up with their own saving targets based on how much water they’d need to survive three more years of drought.

That’ll be voted on later this month, and if passed, could mean districts that saw plenty of rain this winter could stop saving all together.

Max Gomberg, also with the Water Resources Control Board, said these new rules are designed to relax some of the conservation strategy while still helping prepare the state for an uncertain future.

"That’s really the critical element," Gomberg said of the plan.

Along those lines, the executive order requires better drought planning from cities and farmers. The state is also required to prepare emergency water restrictions for 2017 in case the five-year drought persists.

Officials say Californians have saved a year's worth of water for 6.5 million residents since Brown imposed the conservation mandate last June.

Still, the state is not out of the woods yet. The last four years marked the driest stretch in California's recorded history, and the trend could continue.

"I can say most of California climate divisions are still experiencing exceptional drought conditions," Dr. Hesham El-Askary, associate professor of earth and environmental science at Chapman University.

Any changes proposed on Monday would likely go before the State Water Resources Control Board on May 18.

This story has been updated.