Chris Averill

Sandy Wool Lake - the sign in front says "no swimming, no wading"...clearly this is "no problem" right nowLast week, Governor Jerry Brown ordered California’s first-ever statewide mandatory water restrictions in response to the state’s ongoing drought.

From September 2014 through February 2015, the average daily per capita water consumption in California was 111 gallons, and varied between 40 and 385 gallons per person per day. An average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day with most of the water used in toilets and showers.

The difference in Californian water consumption compared to the U.S. average correspond to 215 extra toilet flushes per day or showers that are 172.5 minutes longer. But indoor water use alone cannot explain the higher average water use in California. Maintaining lawns and swimming pools, especially in desert areas likely accounts for the difference. These activities will likely be the most impacted by the new urban water restrictions.

Many have criticized the restrictions because they allow the agriculture industry to maintain its current water usage even though it uses about 80 percent of California’s total clean, fresh water supply. But the state’s agriculture industry produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and water restrictions could have more far-reaching economic implications.

The restrictions specifically call for a 10-35 percent reduction over the next year in urban water usage compared to 2013 levels. The restrictions will be enforced through the state’s 400 local water agencies.  The specific range for an agency depends on the amount of water it currently uses, with the largest consumers located in desert areas. Local water agencies will have significant freedom in determining how to achieve their reduction target, and will likely be heavily fined for failure to meet their targets.

While there may be some initial resistance to residential water cuts, the restrictions proposed seem to be attainable and relatively painless. Ultimately, these restrictions will only decrease California’s total water consumption by five percent because residential water accounts for such a small percent of the total water consumption in the state. If more water needs to be conserved, the next round of restrictions will likely be more painful for residents. The state may also need to consider including water used by agriculture, which may have more wide spread impacts across the country, such as raising food prices. Severe droughts, such as the one California is currently experiencing, are expected to become more frequent in certain areas across the US due to climate change. This serves as a reminder that we can make an impact on the availability of water by turning off the faucet while we’re brushing our teeth, taking shorter showers (I’m guilty of taking long showers), and installing water efficient appliances.