In response to the multi-year drought that has been plaguing California, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order on Wednesday that requires water usage across the state to be reduced by 25%. This is the first time statewide mandatory water restrictions have been enacted in California.
Standing on a dry patch of land in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that is normally covered with five feet of snow at this time of year, the governor said, “We are in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action.” Last year, the state declared a drought emergency and asked residents to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20%. This year, the reductions are compulsory and will be enforced with hefty fines for those who do not comply.
Statewide, according to the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program, the Sierra Snowpack is about 5% of normal for the date. Acting like a savings account, the snowpack is a critical part of the state’s water supply. They store water from the wet winter season and slowly release it to rivers and reservoirs as they melt in the spring and summer.
The current California drought – now in its fourth year – is considered the worst drought on record in the state since 1895. Scientists who study historical climate proxies, such as tree-rings, say this drought is possibly the worst the region has seen in 1000 years.
California is no stranger to drought, but experts say warming conditions related to climate change are making this event worse than it would be otherwise. Once drought takes hold of a region, it tends to feed on itself in a vicious cycle. To start, high temperatures increase evaporation rates causing the soil to dry out. Without plentiful rain to replace the moisture, the sun’s energy heats the ground and the air even further making the affected area even drier. California, according to NOAA, just had its warmest winter on record. The previous record was set only last year.
Local water agencies across the state will be responsible for implementing the cutbacks required by the governor’s executive order and for monitoring compliance.