Drought: California taking sweeping steps to conserve water – U-T San Diego

Posted: Thursday, April 02, 2015

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FILE – In this April 1, 2014 file photo, Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for California’s Department of Water Resources, crosses a meadow still covered in snow as he returns from conducting the snowpack survey at Echo Summit, Calif. A year later, California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered state officials to impose mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history following a snow survey in the same area on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, that found dry, brown grass at the site that normally would be snow-covered this time of year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)The Associated Press

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FILE – In this April 1, 2014 file photo, Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for California’s Department of Water Resources, crosses a meadow still covered in snow as he returns from conducting the snowpack survey at Echo Summit, Calif. A year later, California Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered state officials to impose mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history following a snow survey in the same area on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, that found dry, brown grass at the site that normally would be snow-covered this time of year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

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Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, points to a mark on the snow pack measuring pole that was the lowest previous snow pack level as Gov. Jerry Brown, center and Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources look on at a news conference near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey at that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown took the occasion to announce that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)The Associated Press

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Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, points to a mark on the snow pack measuring pole that was the lowest previous snow pack level as Gov. Jerry Brown, center and Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources look on at a news conference near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey at that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown took the occasion to announce that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as conducts the snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown took the occasion to annouced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)The Associated Press

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Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as conducts the snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown took the occasion to annouced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as conducts the snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown announced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)The Associated Press

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Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as conducts the snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown announced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, explains to Gov. Jerry Brown how he uses the snow survey tube to measure the snow pack depth and collects snow samples during a snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown announced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)The Associated Press

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Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, explains to Gov. Jerry Brown how he uses the snow survey tube to measure the snow pack depth and collects snow samples during a snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown announced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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The snow pack measuring tube and tape measure used by Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, is shown after the monthly snow survey’s held near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey at that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)The Associated Press

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The snow pack measuring tube and tape measure used by Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, is shown after the monthly snow survey’s held near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey at that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

TUSTIN, Calif. (AP) — Gary Whitlock watched water run down to the sidewalk as gardeners hosed down a bed of marigolds outside an Orange County office building and questioned if California’s latest attempt to curb water use would be any more successful than previous ones in the drought-stricken state.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered sweeping and unprecedented measures to save water in California. A survey that day found the snowpack, which supplies a third of the state’s water, almost completely vanished.

“We’re in a new era; the idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past,” Brown said, standing on a brown field that would normally be covered in snow that melts its way into taps.

The governor’s order calls for cities and towns to cut water use by 25 percent, but many Californians like Whitman aren’t seeing a difference in their day-to-day routines or a hit to their wallets because of the drought.

“You see people that just run water all the time, people that are watering their lawns, parks that are not using recycled water,” said Whitlock.

“This has been going on for years and everybody that I talk to says, ‘Oh, well, you know, it’s going to rain, El Nino’s coming.”

Cities have developed local storage supplies to soften the blow of future dry years, which also insulates residents from the severity of the drought. Brown also asked for a voluntary 25 percent cut in water use in 1977 during his first term as governor.

Nearly 40 years later, Brown warns that drought may be the new normal. Surveyors on Wednesday found the lowest snow level in the Sierra Nevada snowpack in 65 years of record-keeping, marking a fourth consecutive year of vanishing snow that California depends on to melt into rivers and replenish reservoirs.

He signed an executive order ordering officials to impose statewide mandatory water restrictions and expand programs intended to reshape how Californians use water.

Cemeteries, golf courses and business headquarters must significantly cut back on watering their large landscapes. Local governments will tear out 50 million square feet of lawns for drought-tolerant plants. And customers will get money for replacing old water-sucking appliances with efficient ones under a temporary rebate program.

These initiatives tie back to a central goal of reducing urban water use by 25 percent compared to 2013 levels, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency. In January 2014, Brown asked Californians to cut water use by 20 percent, but he said Wednesday they haven’t come halfway to meeting that target, prompting stronger action.

That includes directing local agencies to charge for high water use, such as extra fees for the highest water consumption. State water officials vowed to crack down on water waste and illegal water diversions, acknowledging spotty enforcement of existing rules limiting outdoor water use.

The order also prohibits new homes and developments from using drinkable water for irrigation if the structures lack water-efficient drip systems. In addition, the watering of decorative grasses on public street medians is banned.

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