Faced with news of the driest April snowpack in recorded history, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday morning directed the first-ever statewide mandatory water reductions for Californians.
Standing amid grass, dirt and rocks atop a dry Sierra ridge, Brown announced actions that he vowed will save water, such as instructing officials to cut urban water use by 25 percent, boost enforcement of water-wasting, streamline the state’s drought response and invest in new water-saving technologies.
“This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Brown, joined by state water officials at Echo Summit’s Phillips Station off Highway 50, southwest of Lake Tahoe.
“As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible,” he said.
Snow surveyers are expected to announce Wednesday that snowpack is just 6 percent of normal for the state — a historic finding that shatters the previous low record of 25 percent, set last year and in 1977.
Because this is the final measurement of the season, this dismal news has huge implications for the cities, farms and wildlife that depend on melting snowpack to yield water during the spring, summer and fall.
This will be California’s fourth dry year. Groundwater levels continue to drop and key reservoirs remain below average. For instance, the State Water Project’s principal reservoir, Lake Oroville, holds 50 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity.
Among other steps, Brown seeks to prohibit new homes from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used; ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians; require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use, create a new rebate program to replace old wasteful appliances, and work with local goverments to replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping.
The annual April snowpack is a crucial benchmark for state water managers who use the totals to calculate how much the spring snow melt will supply to the state’s reservoirs.
After one of the warmest winters on record, the snowpack has declined since a wet December, when electronic readings recorded the snowpack’s water content at 50 percent of the Dec. 30 historical average, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
“We cannot stress enough,” said Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin in a prepared statement, “that water conservation will be critical in stretching our supplies to the maximum extent possible throughout the coming year.”
Check back for more on this story as it develops.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098. Follow her at Twitter.com/Lisa M. Krieger.