Why are we waiting to declare a water emergency? Act now (Updated)


I have two questions about this story: “What took California so long to declare a water emergency and to impose mandatory water conservation?,” and “Why are the other six states in the Colorado River Compact not also declaring a water emergency and imposing mandatory water conservation?”

Why do people always wait for a disaster to occur first before they are willing to act? What are we waiting for?

The LA Times reports, Brown orders California’s first mandatory water restrictions: ‘It’s a different world’:

jerry brown droughtStanding in a brown field that would normally be smothered in several feet of snow, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered cities and towns across California to cut water use by 25% as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions, the first in state history.

The directive comes more than a year after Brown asked for a 20% voluntary cut in water use that most parts of the state have failed to attain, even as one of the most severe modern droughts drags into a fourth year. It also came on the day that water officials measured the lowest April 1 snowpack in more than 60 years of record-keeping in the Sierra Nevada.

Brown announced the executive order in a Sierra Nevada meadow that provided a dramatic illustration of the state’s parched conditions.

“We’re standing on dry grass,” Brown said. “We should be standing on five feet of snow.”

Emphasizing that the drought could persist, Brown said Californians must change their water habits. “It’s a different world,” he said. “We have to act differently.”

The order focused on urban life even though agriculture accounts for roughly three quarters of Californians’ water usage. Cities have to stop watering the median strips that run down the middle of roads. The state will partner with local agencies to remove 50 million square feet of grass — the equivalent of about 1,150 football fields — and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping.

State agencies will create a temporary rebate program to encourage homeowners to replace water-guzzling appliances with high-efficiency ones. Golf courses, campuses and cemeteries must cut their water use. New developments will have to install drip or microspray systems if they irrigate with drinking water. Water agencies will discourage water waste with higher rates and fees.

The order aims to reduce the amount of water used statewide in urban areas in 2013 by 25%.

Some critics of Brown’s order said it didn’t do enough to address agricultural uses. Adam Scow, director of Food & Water Watch California, called the order disappointing.

“The governor must save our groundwater from depletion by directing the state water board to protect groundwater as a public resource,” Scow said in a statement.

If you are under the misimpression that this drought is limited to California, you are badly mistaken. Here is the current U.S. Drought Monitor Map. Note that the entire Colorado Basin is in drought. California feeds America. The extreme drought in California and the drought in the Midwest are affecting food production and causing shortages, while driving up food prices. If the water runs out, then the real economic disaster begins.


The water board will release draft regulations in mid-April to implement the order. It plans to approve the regulations in early May.

Marcus said local agencies will receive targets for cutting water use based on how well they’ve done so far.

Local agencies that have been slow to conserve since then will feel the order’s effects most dramatically, Marcus said.

“You’re rewarding the early adopters … and you’re saying to the laggers, ‘You have to make a change,’” she said.

Most of the burden of enforcement will fall on local agencies.

If they don’t follow the governor’s order, the state can fine them as much as $10,000 a day.

* * *

Although Southern California water managers said it might be tough for some cities to meet the 25% target, they welcomed Brown’s action.

“It’s the right time. It’s a proper directive,” said Rob Hunter, general manager of the Municipal Water District of Orange County.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised the executive order, noting that last year he called for a 20% cut in the city’s water use by 2017.

* * *

“The governor understands we don’t have time to allow any voluntary measures to work,” said Mark Gold of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “This is such a growing crisis that mandatory conservation was absolutely necessary.”

Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation and former state secretary of natural resources, said even more restrictions may be necessary in the future, such as banning all outdoor water use. “We’re probably going to need more action before we’re through the summer,” he said.

Brown issued his order at Phillips Station, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, where state workers conducted a manual snow survey as part of statewide readings that revealed that the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was only about 5% of the average for April 1. That is the lowest for the date in records going back to 1950.

The Sierra snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state’s water supply, and although major reservoir storage is better than it was last year, there will be little snowmelt to replenish reservoirs this spring.


SNOTEL locations setting a new record low snow-water equivalent for April 2 (red minus signs), near a record low (blue minus signs) and those with no snow cover (gray dots). (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center)

Brown’s order requires agricultural districts in depleted groundwater basins to share data on groundwater use with the state.

“The agricultural community is already being hit very hard,” Marcus said.

For the second year in a row, Central Valley growers without senior water rights are likely to get no supplies from the valley’s big federal irrigation project. Last year farmers idled about 500,000 acres for lack of water, and this year they may be forced to leave even more cropland unplanted.

“Some people want to say, ‘What about the farmers?’ And farmers want to say, ‘What about those people watering their lawns?’” Brown said. “We all have something to do, and we can all do a little better.”

The Arizona Republic has been doing an excellent job of reporting on the water crisis of the Colorado River and the Central Arizona Project. But ask yourself, have you heard anything from our Arizona legislature or Gov. Doug Ducey about taking proactive measures now to conserve water in advance of declaring a water emergency, and implementing mandatory conservation measures like Gov. Jerry Brown did this week? We all know this is coming, but the leaders of this state are waiting for the disaster to occur first before they are willing to act. Reacting to disasters that are foreseeable and for which mitigation measures are possible is not leadership.

UPDATE: Based upon a comment below, here is a link to the SNOTEL Snowpack Report in data form for April 4, 2015. You can check your location in the Western U.S. to see how your area is doing. This report also includes this provisional data map to address the concern in the comment. As you can see, current conditions are just as bad.



  1. The insanity of the LA area thinking they live in the tropics and not a desert is amazing. There should be no lawns in LA whatsoever. There should be no more new golf courses in Arizona either, and tons in Phoenix and Tucson should be closed. Of course alfalfa and cotton growing in Arizona should be curtailed.

  2. I have to point oit that while the article makes a number of very good points, the SNOTEL map is out of date. There is a note in red at the upper left corner that says the data for the map is through 2012. Also the map does not staye whether the records are cumulative i.e. since records began being kept, or whether they are just for year 2012. I point this out in the interest of scientific accuracy. In either case it really does not tell us what the current conditions are. I have no doubt the current situation is quite severe, as the drought map indicates.

    • This… AND the mentality that says the gummit can’t tell ME what to do! I’ll do what I want!

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