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California Issues the State's First Ever Mandatory Water Restrictions

California is digging up lawns and imposing water bans all around the state—its present could be the rest of the country's future.
April 1, 2015, 7:26pm
​A snow survey in 2013 in California. Image: California Government

​For the first time in state history, California is imposing mandatory water restrictions to try to combat the effects of its ongoing and record-breaking drought.

Standing in the Sierra Nevada mountains which, traditionally, have provided a good portion of the state's water supply after snow melts in the spring, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order demanding that the state cut back its water use by 25 percent.


"Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Brown said in a statement. "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."

California's water situation has been dire over the past few years. Last year, the state ​made it illegal to wash your car without a nozzle on the hose, to use drinking water in ornamental fountains, or to do several other water-wasting activities outside. But this is the first time that the state has issued an overall mandate to reduce water use statewide.

According to Brown's office, the State Water Resources Control Board has been tasked with making sure cities and towns reduce their water use.

The state is also going to dig up 50 million square feet of lawns throughout California and replace them with "drought tolerant landscaping" that requires little or no water. It's going to incentivize consumers who buy water- and energy-efficient appliances, impose significant restrictions on water use at golf courses, cemeteries, and college campuses, and prohibit new housing developments from using irrigation systems. California is also going to stop watering the grass on public street medians.

Though the government hasn't said, specifically, how it's going to enforce this new mandate, it says that it's going to have local water utilities change pricing and metering operations.

Overall, this is an unprecedented move, but California has been expected to take some of these steps for several years now. Hell, farmers there have taken to selling their water reserves instead of using them to grow crops.

With news that the Sierra Nevada annual snowpack only has roughly 13 percent the amount of water that it normally does, this year could be the driest yet for a state that has been reeling for years.

"We are too far down the drought path for one storm to bring us back," Doug Carlson, a spokesperson for the state's Department of Water Resources, told Motherboard last month. "Over the last few years there's been this high pressure ridge that sits like a barricade over California and diverts any wet weather either north or south. It just isn't getting through."

It's increasingly looking like the future of the United States is a much drier one—California's present could be the rest of the country's tomorrow.