California is in the middle of a water crisis. NASA’s top water scientists, Jay Famiglietti, announced that California has a single year’s supply of water left in its reservoirs. While California’s lawmakers aren’t new to the experience of drought – in 1977 a similar water shortage struck the state – unlike previous crises, the present shortage is not deemed as the result of cyclical climate patterns. The drought duration and long-term effects are uncertain, Governor Jerry Brown is cracking down on water usage statewide, and meanwhile, water-saving products and lifestyles among Californians continue to gain popularity.
The status of California’s water shortage is more critical than ever before. Normally, snow pack accounts for 30% of the state’s water supply. For the first time in 75 years, early-April measurements of snow pack at 6,800 feet elevation in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains was zero. Instead of snow, the mountain was covered with grass. Snow pack is currently at 8% of historic full levels. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director Mark Cowin responded with the statement, “Water conservation must become a way of life during the worst drought in most Californians’ lifetimes.” 98% of California is experiencing increased dryness, with 41% undergoing exceptionally dry conditions according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
While snow pack will not contribute much to California’s water supply in the coming months, underground water basins are being depleted to water crops. Ground water usage in California’s Central Valley is causing the land to sink. According to USGS Geologist Joseph Poland, an area greater than Los Angeles and Orange County combined has sunk a foot since 1970. The state’s water problems are undeniable. (See the devastating drought in images here.)
Governor Brown Takes Action
Governor Jerry Brown announced a $1 billion plan both to reduce water usage and to conserve current water deposits. The plan includes bond funding that will finance the enforcement of outdoor watering regulations and water conservation infrastructure. Additionally, Brown issued an executive order to more than 3,000 of California’s water providers to cut their water usage by 25% compared with 2013. The State Water Resources Control Board will impose restrictions for each agency on how much water they can use depending on how much its customers use per-capita.
Brown’s order also contains mandates that apply to individual citizens. All of them incentivize Californians to make water-saving lifestyle choices. The incentives include:
- A rebate program to replace residential lawns with drought-tolerant lawns.
- A consumer rebate program to subsidize installation of water-efficient appliances, such as toilets and washing machines.
- A ban on watering ornamental lawns on public street medians.
- Financial assistance for families forced to find new housing because they have run out of potable water.
In light of the crisis and Governor Brown’s mandates, many Californians are resorting to lifestyle changes. Among the most popular and impactful is installing an artificial grass lawn. The installation is simple enough for residents to execute themselves, albeit a laborious project, and the long-term benefits include upwards of $8,000 of savings over the course of five years, as well as upwards of 30,000 gallons of water preserved a year for an average size lawn. Artificial lawns are growing in popularity likely, beyond their environmental relevance, because they’re easy to maintain. Other water efficient solutions gaining traction include water-efficient showerheads, toilets that reduce domestic water usage by 20-60%, and irrigation controllers that act like a thermostat for sprinklers.
The need for environmental responsibility among Californians on an individual level is undeniable. While Jerry Brown institutes mandates to conserve water, it is still up to individuals to make wise choices. Over the coming months, expect an increase in artificial grass installation, and other water-saving appliances.