Brown issues order for 25 percent decrease in water usage

Kayla Baskevitch/Staff

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On Wednesday, amid already extensive local efforts to tackle the California drought, Gov. Jerry Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory urban water reduction usage in the state for the first time in California’s history.

The executive order requires the state’s local water supply agencies to reduce the state’s water consumption by 25 percent. Noting that there is no end of the drought in sight, Brown issued the order after a record-low snowpack.

The water agency that supplies Berkeley is the East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD. The agency’s per capita use is below average for the state, so it is still to be determined to what extent cutbacks will be needed, according to Abby Figueroa, an EBMUD spokesperson. Plans were already in place, however, to lower water usage prior to the order.

“On April 14, the staff is going to ask for a 20 percent cutback from all of our customers and additional restrictions,” Figueroa said.

UC Berkeley has been working on reducing campus water use for several years now, according to Christine Shaff, director of communications for the campus real estate division. UC Berkeley currently uses more than 605 million gallons annually of potable water, 25 percent of which is used in the residence halls.

After a water reduction campaign last year with the announcement of the drought, the campus has been able to reduce its water use by a couple of percentage points, according to Shaff.

“Like with everything else, the governor’s mandate didn’t come with extra funding,” Shaff said. “We are the oldest campus in the UC system, so we have some building system and utilities that need upgrading.”

As for the city of Berkeley, water consumption has dropped 26 percent over the past year, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. But the city is looking to see what further improvements can be made.

“Residents are going to have to step up to the plate, and the same goes for the city,” said City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “We have taken some steps, but there is more that needs to be done, … We need a resilient city that can withstand the effects of climate change.”

Brown proclaimed a drought-induced state of emergency at the beginning of last year, directing state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for drought conditions. Wednesday’s executive order, however, directs the first statewide mandatory water reductions.

“This is the first time the state has put real legal muscle behind conservation efforts and taken a forceful leadership role,” said Michael Hanemann, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental and resource economics.

If successful, the restrictions would save about 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months — nearly equivalent to the amount of water currently in Lake Oroville, located in Northern California, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The current drought is not the only one that California has seen under Brown’s governance — a prior drought occurred in the 1970s.

“(Brown) was ineffectual in dealing with the state’s water issues. Since then, he has become much tougher and wiser,” Hanemann said. “His second governorship has been like night and day with (his) previous (term).”

The executive order is the most recent measure Brown has taken to tackle the drought. On Sept. 16, 2014, Brown signed legislation to impose a framework for sustainable and local groundwater management for the first time in state history.

Currently, about 80 percent of California water is used in agriculture, according to David Sedlak, a UC Berkeley professor and co-director of Berkeley Water Center. The executive order addresses the additional 20 percent and “does a great job in raising public consciousness,” Sedlak said.

Contact Cassie Ippaso at [email protected].