Agricultural water users required to report more information to state regulators

It was no joke. On April 1, following the lowest snowpack ever recorded, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions across California to reduce water usage by 25%. This was the first time in 75 years that no snow whatsoever was found in the California Department of Water Resources’ manual snow survey in the Sierra Nevada, and the first time in the state’s history that mandatory water restrictions of this magnitude have been undertaken.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” Governor Brown said at the April 1 press conference. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action.”

According to Governor Brown’s office, water savings under the new plan will total approximately 1.5 million acre-feet over the next nine months. In addition to saving water, the mandate will increase enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state’s drought response and invest in new technologies to make California more drought resilient.

While many of the requirements in the Governor’s executive order apply specifically to private residences, it also addresses water usage by campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other entities. Depending on the source of water used to irrigate their lawns, wineries may be subject to the new restrictions.

“If (the water) is from a local provider of some kind, the provider will be under mandatory rationing restrictions,” said Richard Stapler of the California Natural Resources Agency. However, he added, “If a vineyard gets its water from an onsite well from groundwater, the regulations for those were just passed by the legislature last year and will not go into full effect for several years. That said, water tables are dropping lower and lower due to lack of precipitation, so a vineyard operator would then want to start making choices about what’s the best use for what water is available to them – ornamental lawns or their crops.”

For Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, Calif., whose “Great Lawn” is often used for tasting events, conservation efforts are already underway. “We started water conservation practices more than a year ago when we made the decision to turn off the water feature on our road sign, and to create a more drought-friendly front lawn outside of our tasting room,” said Jeff Richardson, vice president of operations. “We are currently finalizing an overall plan for further reducing our water use by at least 25%.”

Under Governor Brown’s mandate, agricultural water users 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 the new order. The Governor’s action also strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans.

The order will also incentivize promising new water-efficiency technologies through a new program administered by the California Energy Commission.

For drought information and resources, visit http://ca.gov/drought/ or the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s web portal for farmers and ranchers: www.cdfa.ca.gov/drought/.