Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mandatory Water Conservation in California

For the first time in its history California has instituted mandatory water use restrictions. After three years of below-normal rainfall, California is currently facing its third most severe drought in recorded history; however, water usage in California is significantly higher than in previous droughts, the rainy season has finished, and the drought continues with no end in sight. Currently, all the water reservoirs in California are at less than half their capacity.

Last January Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and called for voluntarily water conservation, hoping to cut use in the urban and suburban water districts by 20%; unfortunately by May it was clear that voluntary measures had produced only a 5% savings. So, on Tuesday, the California State Water Resource Control Board approved an emergency regulation to force water agencies and urban state residents to increase their water conservation.

The new water conservation regulation primarily reduces outdoor urban water use. The regulation, adopted by the State Water Board, mandates minimum actions for water agencies and consumers to conserve water supplies both for this year and into 2015. Most Californians (like most residents of arid states) use more water outdoors than indoors, up to 50% of daily water use is estimated to be for lawns and outdoor landscaping.

Under the emergency regulation, all Californians will be required to stop: washing down driveways and sidewalks; watering of outdoor landscapes that cause excess runoff; using a hose to wash a motor vehicle, unless the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle, and using potable water in a fountain or decorative water feature, unless the water is recirculated. The regulation makes an exception for health and safety circumstances.

The larger water supplier’s agencies will be required to activate their Water Shortage Contingency Plan to a level where outdoor irrigation restrictions are mandatory and track progress towards their conservation goals. In smaller communities where no water shortage contingency plan exists, the regulation requires that water suppliers either limit outdoor irrigation to twice a week or implement other comparable conservation actions.

“We are facing the worst drought impact that we or our grandparents have ever seen,” said State Water Board Chairperson Felicia Marcus. “And, more important, we have no idea when it will end. This drought’s impacts are being felt by communities all over California. Fields are fallowed; communities are running out of water, fish and wildlife will be devastated. The least that urban Californians can do is to not waste water on outdoor uses. It is in their self-interest to conserve more, now, to avoid far more harsh restrictions, if the drought lasts into the future. These regulations are meant to spark awareness of the seriousness of the situation, and could be expanded if the drought wears on and people do not act.”

from UC Davis-dry irrigation systems
This past spring water allocations to farmers and ranchers were reduced based on priority of water rights. The University of California at Davis Center for Watershed Sciences study released Tuesday found that the current drought has resulted in the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water allocated for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third. Irrigated agricultural consumes over 75% of the delivered water in California, which produces about half of U.S. grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. As farmers have shifted to higher value horticultural and orchard crops, they have adopted more efficient irrigation technologies to stretch their water allocations, but have grown more dependent on groundwater to ensure the survival of orchards. Groundwater pumping is expected to replace a significant portion of the river water losses, with some areas more than doubling the amount of groundwater used from last year.

More than 80% of this groundwater pumping occurs in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin. California produces about half of U.S. grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, much of it from the central valley of California where three crops a year can be grown and crop production is only limited by the amount of water delivered for irrigation, the groundwater is used to increase irrigation waters making up an estimated of 30% of water for irrigation in a “normal” year. The groundwater aquifer is predominately non-renewable.

So much water has been pumped that the land above the aquifer has subsided and can never recover. The water level in these aquifers has fallen hundreds of feet in the past few generations and according to the UC Davis report cannot be sustained. According to Jay Lund the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences to ensure that there is groundwater to carry the region thought future droughts we need to properly manage this resource. California is the only state without a framework for groundwater management.
from UC Davis- Orchards left to die

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