Californians Resort to Mandatory Water Restrictions During Their Worst Drought in History

By Louise Bilham

June 3, 2015


California is experiencing its worst drought in history. The state is now in its fourth year of an extreme drought that is showing no end in sight. 2014 was the hottest year on record and together with record low snowfall, it is now more important to save water than ever before.

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains accounts for 30% of California's water supply. At this year’s annual measuring, the snowpack was only at 5% of what it should be at this time of year. This is the lowest it has been since record keeping began in 1950.

Many of California’s reservoirs are also way below an acceptable level. Lake Oroville in Butte County and Lake Shasta in Redding, which are the state’s two largest reservoirs are currently only at 40% capacity.

“California is in the worst drought we’ve seen in our grandparents’ generation or beyond. Fields are going fallow. Thousands of people are going to be out of work. There are communities that are out of water, they are bathing out of buckets and water trucks are coming to help them. But many parts of California don’t seem to realize how bad it is because they are so far away from their source of water. We are all in this together and this is not a time to waste water” – Felicia Marcus, Chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.


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Lowered waters at Lake Oroville


Voluntary Restrictions

In January 2014, Governor Jerry Brown declared that the drought was in a “state of emergency” and urged Californians to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20%. However, a survey by the water board showed very disappointing results as most areas of the state fell short of the target, especially in Southern California where they actually increased their water consumption. Despite pleas from Governor Brown the overall water consumption across the state was 1% higher in May 2014 than in previous years.

These disappointing results have created the need for mandatory water restrictions to be implemented.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action. Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible” – Governor Gerry Brown at the annual measuring of the Sierra snowpack.


Mandatory Restrictions

On April 1st and for the first time in history, Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water restrictions in urban areas that will reduce the overall water consumption by 25% compared with 2013.


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Governor Brown at Sierra Nevada Mountains


Currently there are no mandatory water restrictions in place for large farm owners who get their water from sources outside the local water agencies. However, they will still have to give detailed reports of their water use to state regulators in hope of highlighting areas of water waste. This has come under criticism as agriculture currently uses 80% of California’s developed water supply.

The mandatory water restrictions focus greatly on outdoor irrigation which accounts for 50% of Californians water use, with significant cuts on large landscapes such as campuses, golf courses and cemeteries.

The mandatory restrictions and water conservation methods include:

  • Replacing 50 million square feet of lawn with drought tolerant landscaping.

  • Creating a temporary consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with water efficient models.

  • Restaurants, bars and hotels are only to serve water to customers when they specifically ask for it.

  • Hotels and motels are to have signs to give guests the option of not having their towels and linen washed daily.

  • Water providers must now promptly inform property owners if they discover leaks.

  • Cars are only to be washed with a hose that is fitted with a shut off nozzle.

  • No hosing down driveways or sidewalks.

  • No use of potable water that doesn’t re-circulate in ornamental fountains.

  • Water providers are to limit lawn watering to two days a week.

  • No overwatering of landscaping where it creates run off.

  • No watering of ornamental grass.

  • No lawn watering within 48 hours of considerable rainfall.

These restrictions will be in affect from August 1st 2015 and any local water agencies that fail to implement them can receive fines of up to $10,000 per day. The local water agencies will have the authority to fine any water wasters up to $500 per day and they will be required to report details of penalized water wasters to the water board. From October, the local water agencies will also be required to report details of water use per person to the state board.

“We’ve done a lot. We have a long way to go. So maybe you just want to think of this as just another instalment on a long enterprise to live with a changing climate and with a drought of uncertain duration” – Governor Jerry Brown


Recommended Reading:

Brown Orders California's First Mandatory Water Restrictions: “It's a Different World”

California Governor Orders Mandatory Water Restrictions amid Drought

California Drought: $500-a-Day Water Fines Passed

California Drought: New Water Restrictions Carry Penalty of Up to $500

California Governor Tells Climate Change Deniers to Wake Up

Who Saved, Who Didn't

California Imposes First-Ever Mandatory Water Restrictions

Low California Snowpack Ushers Mandatory Water Restrictions

California: New Mandatory Water Conservation Rules for Lawns, Hotels, Restaurants

California Gov. Brown Wants $10,000 Fine for Water-Wasters