California Governor Issues Order Mandating Water Use Reductions

By Carolyn Whetzel

April 1 – California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) ordered cities all across the state to reduce their water use by 25 percent and directed state and local officials to take other actions to save water.

The executive order (B-29-15) comes as the state enters a fourth year of severe drought.

Brown announced the order at a site in the Sierra Nevada, after observing state water officials seeking to measure snowpack but finding no snow on the ground.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” Brown said in a written statement. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action. Therefore, I'm issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state.”

California relies on spring and summer runoff from the snow in the Sierras to fill its streams, rivers and reservoirs. Water officials said the April 1 electronic readings found snowpack at 5 percent of its historical average of 28.3 inches, the lowest since 1950.

“Today's survey underscores the severity of California's drought,” Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources, said in a written statement. “Water conservation must become a way of life during the worst drought in most Californians' lifetimes.”

Monthly Data Use Reports Required 

Brown's order directs the State Water Resources Control Board to impose restrictions to cut urban water use by 25 percent through Feb. 28, 2016, and take steps to ensure water districts are reporting monthly usage data.

Also, the order requires the California Public Utilities Commission to impose similar use restrictions on private water companies.

Other provisions in the order will require:

• commercial, industrial and institutional properties like campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to reduce use of potable water;

• a ban on using potable water on public street medians;

• water suppliers to develop rate structures to encourage conservation;

• a program to replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought-tolerant landscaping;

• a rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models; and

• newly constructed homes and buildings to use only non-potable water for outside uses.


Agricultural Water Suppliers Also Affected 

Agricultural water suppliers also will have to take measures to better manage water during the drought and report more water use information to state officials.

Local water agencies in high and median priority groundwater basins will have to begin supplying water data immediately, according to the order.

State agencies also are directed to cooperate in developing water saving technologies and to streamline the review and approval of water infrastructure projects and programs.

Brown declared a drought emergency last year and called on all water users to cut usage by 20 percent. While some communities have reduced water use, statewide conservation has fallen short of the governor's goal. 

The SWRCB recently strengthened orders for urban water agencies, but a new round of measures is expected.

Scientists Support Decision 

The Union of Concerned Scientists is “especially pleased to see that the governor is requiring water agencies to share groundwater data as required by law, and to share water use data with state regulators,” Adrienne Alvord, of the UCS, said in an e-mail. “We know that in order to address the drought effectively we need much better information both on how much water we are using and at what rate. This is a critical requirement that we need to make permanent, since we know that you can't manage what you don't measure.”

Rich Atwater, executive director of the Southern California Water Committee, said the governor's actions are needed since the drought shows no sign of easing up.

“Southern California's water agencies have pioneered innovative strategies to conserve water and make the region more water efficient for the long term, and will continue to seek out ways to conserve water during and beyond this drought,” Atwater said in a written statement.

Other Water Agency Groups Support Action 

Other water agency groups also commended Brown's new order.

“This severe drought calls for all hands on deck,” John Coleman, president of the Association of California Water Agencies, said in a written statement. “We are one state, and we are all in this together. Local water agencies will respond with renewed urgency and provide leadership with aggressive outreach to customers and a range of programs to maximize supplies and keep as much water in reserve as possible in case the drought persists into 2016. ACWA stands ready to help in this critical endeavor. ”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at