California Mandates 25% Reduction in Water Usage

Amidst the worst drought in California’s recorded history, Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order on April 1 announcing measures to cut back industrial and home water consumption. His plan mandates a 25 percent reduction in supply to California’s 400 water control agencies, and calls on the public to curb their usage by the same amount. Fines are expected for businesses and individuals who fail to comply.

The restrictions are an expansion of Brown’s initial drought emergency plan in January 2014. At the time, he issued his first statewide drought emergency, calling on California residents to voluntarily reduce water consumption by 20 percent. With rain still scarce and the drought’s effects multiplying, he’s lifted the ‘voluntary’ label, calling on water control agencies to enforce restrictions among their users.

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the California Resources Control Board, spoke on the urgency of the situation in an April interview with the New York Times.

“We are in a drought unlike one we’ve seen before, and we have to take actions that we haven’t taken before,” she said. “We are not getting the level of effort that the situation clearly warrants.”

Untouched by the restrictions is the agricultural industry, which uses 80 percent of California’s water supply. Owners of large farms are not subject to state mandates, as most draw water from sources outside the 400 control agencies. The burden, then, is expected to fall on small businesses and homeowners.

According to Professor of Environmental Analysis Char Miller PZ ’76, cities around the state have picked up slack where small towns like Claremont have not. Poorer citizens in and around Los Angeles, he said, have been among the most proactive conservers, in part because water prices have been rising and limiting their options.

But in Claremont—where the median income is approximately $20,000 higher than that of California—citizens have been less vigilant. Over the past year, Claremont had an average of approximately 330 gallons of water consumed per citizen per day, a whopping 45 gallons higher than Beverly Hills, a city often cast as the exemplar of wasteful water consumption.

If this is to change, Miller said, a change in rhetoric is necessary.

“We have yet in Claremont been able to adopt the aesthetic that will help this process,” he said. “So the notion that ‘brown is the new green’ is going to be hard to drive in a ‘City of Trees.’ The logic has been for the last 125 years that cheap water should produce an east coast landscape—a true college in a garden. We have to shift that logic, we have to shift that rhetoric.”

Around the colleges, administrators and grounds and sustainability offices have been debating new ways to reinforce their own commitment to sustainability and increase their resourcefulness. The 5Cs have each outlined their sustainability plans, calling for infrastructure improvements such better monitoring technology and more water-efficient drip irrigation systems.

Pomona College’s Assistant Director of Sustainability Ginny Routhe spoke on the difficulties of adding to already aggressive water use policies.

“We are scratching our heads a little bit trying to figure out how we’re going to reduce 25 percent more than what we’ve already been reducing,” she said. “But we’re circling back to our sustainability action plan, identifying unused spaces for turf removal to try and take them out immediately.”

Sustainability offices are calling on students to do their part in reducing usage. Aside from reporting leaking or misfiring sprinklers, students can be more aware of how they use water by examining ways to reduce personal consumption.

Pomona environmental analysis professor Rick Hazlett agrees, arguing that change cannot happen without an active and informed student body.

“We have to model forms of behavior change for the 21st century that will capture the imagination and commitment/engagement of students in terms of energy, as well as water,” he said.

With forecasts cloudy over expected future rainfall and water availability, Miller stressed the urgency for colleges to get their acts together and create a careful optimism for the future. 

“I think house by house, garden by garden, streetscape by streetscape, acre by acre, we can make the change,” Miller said. “We just have to make it fast, we don’t have a lot of time. If we’re going to be the education thought leaders in this town alone, we’ve got to clean up our act and pound this argument about our drought action plans across the five colleges. There’s a lot more we can and should do.”