HE MAY HAVE dropped the news on April Fools Day, but California Governor Jerry Brown’s new water rules are no joke. Issued while standing in the bone dry Sierra Nevada mountains—which are usually packed with snow this time of year—Brown’s executive order will affect every user in the state, from cities to golf courses, parks to agriculture.
The edict attacks the water shortage in four ways: by reducing water waste, implementing stricter waste enforcement, streamlining the bureaucratic processes for water management, and developing new technologies to reduce both usage and waste. Most strikingly, Brown’s plan called for a statewide, mandatory reduction of water use in cities and towns by 25 percent. According to the executive order, this would save 1.5 million acre feet of water in the next nine months. Why nine months? Because that’s when California’s wet season (hopefully) starts again.
An acre foot is literally an acre of land covered with one foot of water. Multiplied by 1.5 million, that’s about 490 billion gallons of water1. But most people can’t even visualize the volume of water they use in a single day, which is about 80-100 gallons, or about three fully filled bath tubs. Oh, speaking of bath tubs, Brown’s plan calls for skipping about 7.1 billion of them. Or 20 billion short showers. Or about 500 billion tooth brushing sessions. For the flush-conscious, that’s about 460 billion number ones (If it’s yellow, let it mellow!).
OK, that got a little gross. And maybe you’re better at visualizing that water all in one place. Whip out your favorite map and find the Great Salt Lake. 1.5 million acre feet would be about the same as skimming a foot off the surface of the largest lake west of the Rockies. More of a city person? That’s roughly the same volume as 1,766 Empire State Buildings. Which would be enough Empire State Buildings to cover Central Park almost four times over.
But even that massive volume of water savings doesn’t really count towards the 11 trillion gallons of deficit that Californians have racked up since 2011. It just makes sure that 2015 doesn’t put the state into a deeper hole.
It’ll be up to the individual cities and towns to decide where they’ll drain 25 percent of the water from their budgets. But Brown’s plan calls for even more savings, using measures at the state level. It’s a potpourri of carrot and stick. For example, agriculture—the state’s biggest overall user—will be hit with stricter enforcement for waste and illegal usage. (Almonds, the state’s crop du jour, drink up about six times as much water annually as what Brown is calling to save.) Likewise, golf courses, campuses, public parks, and anything else requiring sprinklers will have to cut off the irrigation, or switch to drip systems. In fact, many state-owned lawns will be torn up and replaced with drought-resistant landscaping. Ok, so it’s mostly stick. But at least there’s a part that says residents will get rebates for buying more efficient replacements replacing for their water-guzzling appliances.
So yeah California, the party is definitely over. And if all this makes you feel like having a drink, just keep in mind that 1.5 million acre feet equals 31,534,009,225 kegs of beer.
1. Correction 12:34 EST 4/2/2015 Originally, this was worded to say that one acre foot equaled 490 billion gallons of water. It’s only 325,851 gallons. We’d skipped the part where we multiplied one acre foot by 1.5 million.