California Governor Jerry Brown has announced mandatory water restrictions for the first time in the history of the Golden State. With the drought in the US Southwest now in its fourth year, and the annual California snowpack at unprecedentedly low levels, Mr Brown ordered the Water Resources Control Board to enforce a 25 per cent reduction in water usage across the state.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the governor’s plan calls for golf courses and other landscaped areas to cut water usage, and bans the watering of ornamental grass on public street medians. Some 50 million square feet of California lawn will be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping, while water agencies are being urged to alter their pricing to discourage excessive consumption.
Last month, Mr Brown unveiled a $1bn drought relief plan to pay for water projects and provide aid to small communities around the state that are already facing severe water shortages. It is hoped that the new restrictions, once implemented, will save as much as 1.5m acre-feet of water in the next nine months. “It’s a different world,” the governor said at a press conference on Wednesday morning. “We have to act differently.”
Last year was the warmest on record in California, which is in the middle of its driest spell for centuries. and which relies on snow-melt for 30 per cent of its overall water supply in an average year. Officials said this year’s snowpack – described as “dismally meagre” by the California Department of Water Resources – was the smallest since records began in 1950.
The water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack today was measured at a mere five per cent of the state’s historical average for 1 April, when traditionally – following winter and the rainy season – it ought to be at its peak. Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus recently said the current state of California’s snowpack was “just terrifying.”
And this may just be the beginning: scientists have warned that California and the surrounding region could face a “mega-drought” lasting decades, which would devastate its agricultural industry and change the face of its cities, with long-term impacts far beyond the Southwest.
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