‘Do our part’: CA Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils water conservation plan

Infographic about California drought
Aasha Turner/Staff

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In an effort to mitigate worsening effects of California’s drought, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Monday banning irrigation of grass, excluding residential lawns and spaces used for recreation.

The California Department of Water Resources estimates the ban will save several hundred thousand acre-feet of water. The executive order also directs communities and local governments to prepare for a water shortage by reducing the number of days residents can water outdoors, for example. 

Newsom also ordered state agencies to find funding for an emergency assistance program that, if funded, would provide relief to communities and households facing drought-related water shortages. However, the order notably does not limit the allowed amount of water used for agriculture — the industry responsible for 80% of the state’s water consumption.

“While we have made historic investments to protect our communities, economy and ecosystems from the worsening drought across the West, it is clear we need to do more,” Newsom said in a statement. “Amid climate-driven extremes in weather, we must all continue to do our part and make water conservation a way of life.”

UC Berkeley junior and environmentalist Evan Belk said the order maintains a “cloak of invisibility” around who is really using the water in the state. California billionaires Lynda and Stewart Resnick use more water than every home in Los Angeles combined to run their agricultural empire, which produces Wonderful Pistachios and Pom Wonderful-branded pomegranate juice.

Belk added the state’s water crisis will disproportionately affect low-income people due to consumer good price increases that might be the result of buyers like the Resnicks outspending other farmers and manufacturers and consequently influencing water prices.

Belk said although the water crisis has gotten worse over the years, residents have essentially accepted it.

“People are becoming more adjusted and numb to extreme environmental events,” Belk said. “Before, in the drought of the 2010s, everyone was like ‘do your part,’ but now, I don’t think there’s as much of a sense of collective urgency.”

From 2011 to 2017, the city of Berkeley reduced its municipal water usage by 26%. Mayor Jesse Arreguín noted that many of the policies put in place to achieve that reduction remain in place today. He added that the city’s generational plan for infrastructure and climate adaptation emphasizes water conversation.

Newsom’s executive order also requires cities to help by not approving permits for new groundwater wells or alteration of existing wells without approval from the state’s Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

“As our current drought worsens, taking steps now will help avoid stricter water restrictions in the future,” Arreguín said in a statement. “But this requires all of us to do our part to reduce wasteful water consumption.”

Rachel Barber is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.