Ripple effect of Gov. Brown’s water use order flows to Nevada County |

Ripple effect of Gov. Brown’s water use order flows to Nevada County

California Gov. Jerry Brown, middle, and Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources, right, watch as Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, performs April's snow survey Wednesday at Phillips Station.
Isaac Brambila / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Water-saving measures

Brown’s executive order includes:

Save Water

25 percent mandatory reductions in water usage.

This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville.

To save more water now, the order will also:

— Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;

— Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models;

— Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and

— Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

Increase Enforcement

The governor’s order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.

Agricultural water users - which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off — will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order.

Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.

Additional actions required by the order include:

— Taking action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have not shared data on their groundwater supplies with the state;

— Updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and taking action against communities that ignore these standards;

— Making permanent monthly reporting of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions by local water suppliers.

The order

— Prioritizes state review and decision-making of water infrastructure projects and requires state agencies to report to the Governor’s Office on any application pending for more than 90 days.

— Streamlines permitting and review of emergency drought salinity barriers - necessary to keep freshwater supplies in upstream reservoirs for human use and habitat protection for endangered and threatened species;

— Simplifies the review and approval process for voluntary water transfers and emergency drinking water projects; and

— Directs state departments to provide temporary relocation assistance to families who need to move from homes where domestic wells have run dry to housing with running water.

— Invest in New Technologies

The order helps make California more drought resilient by:

— Incentivizing promising new technology that will make California more water efficient through a new program administered by the California Energy Commission.

For more than two years, California has been dealing with the effects of drought. To learn about all the actions the state has taken to manage our water system and cope with the impacts of the drought, visit Drought.CA.Gov.

For more information, visit

At the Nevada County Fairgrounds, the water cooler buzz on Thursday was, not coincidentally, water.

“It was our topic all day long Thursday,” said Fairgrounds CEO Sandy Woods. “We have a staff meeting every Thursday morning and that was the topic of today’s meeting.”

Woods was referencing Gov. Jerry Brown’s order Wednesday for a 25 percent overall mandatory cutback in water use by cities and towns — but not farms — in what is being called the “most sweeping drought measures ever undertaken by the nation’s most populous state,” according to the Associated Press.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” Brown said Wednesday at a browned-out hillside where the snowpack readings are usually taken every year. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action.”

Brown’s move to get tough on water use came after his push for voluntary conservation yielded mixed results. Asked by Brown in January 2014 to cut their water consumption by 20 percent, Californians achieved only about half that.

Brown’s announcement mirrored a snow survey taken Wednesday by the Nevada Irrigation District that indicated the mountain snowpack that supplies the NID water system is at 4 percent of average water content.

NID snow surveyors found an average water content of 1.5 inches on five mountain snow courses, compared to the April 1 average of 33.7 inches. Two of the courses had no snow; the deepest snow, 14.5 inches, was found at 7,800 feet on Webber Peak, NID’s highest course.

A year ago, the April 1 average water content was measured at 12.1 inches. NID Water Resources Superintendent Sue Sindt said NID’s previous low measurement was in 1934 with 9.1 inches.

“Fortunately, the district’s water storage is slightly above average, but that is not expected to last long with the limited amount of runoff from the snowpack,” she said.

Throughout Nevada County, the effect of Brown’s message — combined with the NID snowpack reading — rippled out over many farms, businesses, and agencies.

Ron Ettlin, owner of Nevada County Farm Supply nursery in Penn Valley and the farm supply store in Grass Valley, said he will continue cutbacks started last year. Those include hand-watering plants instead of using sprinklers, and only using water for four to six hours per day.

“We’re entitled to 24-hour water use, but we’re not using any sprinklers at night,” Ettlin said.

At Riverhill Farm in Nevada City, owner Alan Haight said he has already put in place three water conservation measures that should help this year.

First, the farm has just completed an early plow-in of its cover crop that is planted in the fall. During a regular season, the cover crop — usually a grain or legume — might not be plowed back into the soil until May. This year, Haight began the process in February.

“We plow it back into the soil and it increases the organic matter,” he said. “When there is a disturbed surface, the soil beneath it retains moisture longer.”

Riverhill also ordered a new tractor implement that can work dry soil “without turning it into dust,” Haight said.

“We expect it to arrive this month,” he said of the new tool.

The third measure is Riverhill’s drip irrigation system, which is already in place. The system, which draws from a groundwater well as opposed to receiving NID water, drastically reduces water use, Haight said.

“If we didn’t have drip irrigation, we couldn’t farm all these acres,” he said.

Haight said one advantage of the warmer drought year is that some produce, such as tomatoes, will have a longer growing season, increasing the farm’s income.

Usually, Riverhill doesn’t plant tomatoes until after the threat of frost is over — often not until mid- to late summer. This year, Haight expects to plant earlier.

Meanwhile, at the fairgrounds, several new ideas were proposed. Woods said the fair board, at its next meeting, will have an agenda item to form a new board committee to work with staff on water saving measures.

“At the fairgrounds, we want to be a leader in conserving water,” Woods said.

The fairgrounds last year replaced several flower beds with rock gardens and will be continuing such activities and adding new ones, she said.

Some of the ideas proposed Thursday include reducing the amount of water used for dust control at the fair and other events.

Also, Woods said she is considering asking the fair ride vendors not to wash down the Ferris wheels or other rides, as they usually do before the fair starts. Woods is also thinking of adding signs to explain water conservation measures to fair visitors.

The fairgrounds uses recycled lake water for its irrigation, so it is not directly affected by NID cutbacks. But Woods said the fair board and staff realize that the drought “has a huge impact on California agriculture.”

“California feeds the nation and the world,” she said. “This is serious.”

NID officials, meanwhile, noted Thursday that Gov. Brown’s 25 percent reductions announced Wednesday were up from the 20 percent level in his 2014 drought declaration and the 20 percent level NID is currently seeking from customers.

The governor’s order requires the roughly 400 water agencies around the state to cut water use by one-quarter from the 2013 level.

Homeowners will get rebates for replacing lawns with greenery more suited to the semi-arid state and for installing more water-thrifty appliances and plumbing fixtures. The state also will press water agencies to impose higher, graduated rates to discourage water guzzling.

The NID Board of Directors last month implemented Stage III drought contingency plans for treated water users and Stage II plans for irrigation water users. District officials are now evaluating what changes may be warranted to meet the new requirements.

This year’s precipitation at Bowman Reservoir reached 40.62 inches, or 69 percent of average, as of April 1. The last three months — January, February and March — produced only 10.46 inches, 31 percent of average.

The almost non-existent snowpack is attributed to a warmer than usual weather pattern that has brought more rain than snow.

A member of the California Cooperative Snow Survey, NID conducts four official snow surveys each year, in February, March, April and May.

The April 1 snow survey is generally regarded as the best measure of water supplies for the coming year. Results of the snow surveys are used to predict water availability locally and statewide.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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