California's Dire Drought Leads to Record Low Snowpack Levels at 6%, Triggers Mandatory Conservation Measures
California's dire drought conditions have finally triggered more meaningful action at the state level. Today, Gov. Brown issued an executive order which calls on state and local water agencies "to implement a series of measures to save water, including increased enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state’s drought response, and invest in new technologies," according to California Coastkeeper Alliance.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The governor issued the statement today as readings of the April 1 assessment came in, which showed snowpack levels are at their lowest since the state started keeping records (approximately 6 percent of normal levels, compared to 24 percent of normal levels last year).
“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Gov. Brown. “Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”
Sara Aminzadeh, executive director of California Coastkeeper Alliance, agrees. “Over the next several months we will see some communities run out of clean water, and rivers, streams and wetlands dried up, leaving fish and wildlife stranded. We need action at all levels of government that reflects the urgency and severity of this crisis.”
The lack of snowpack will result in very little or no runoff from the Sierra into California’s reservoirs and rivers, posing a serious problem for the already incredibly water-starved state. Only a few weeks ago, NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti warned "the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs."
Gov. Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. After a series of weak measures involving voluntary conservation orders issued by Brown's administration, organizations including Waterkeeper Alliance, California Coastkeeper Alliance and Los Angeles Waterkeeper praise the mandatory conservation order.
The organizations said they "are encouraged by measures to increase reporting and monitoring of water usage, a needed move to improve local enforcement." They also praised "the requirement that local water agencies adjust rate structures to implement conservation pricing." They are however concerned "about how streamlining permitting of drought salinity barriers could harm Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and other threatened and endangered fish and other species."
According to the governor's statement, the issue will also:
- Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
- Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models;
- Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
- Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.
This executive order comes on the heels of emergency legislation, which was signed by Gov. Brown last week to fast-track more than $1 billion in funding for drought relief and critical water infrastructure projects.
As for whether the order will be a game changer, Liz Crosson, Los Angeles Waterkeeper executive director says, “Local jurisdictions have to implement and enforce these measures to actually reduce water usage. Many of the State Board’s mandatory measures are still not enforced in Los Angeles. Until Californians take the drought seriously, we will continue to see reserves depleted and the future become more uncertain. The next step for California is to set mandatory daily limits on gallons per person per day.”
And while California may be one of the farthest "up the creek," Marc Yaggi, executive director at Waterkeeper Alliance, points out climate threatens all of our world's waterways. “Nearly every region in the country is facing increased risk of seasonal drought and as we’re seeing in California, climate change is wreaking havoc on the sustainability of our water supplies," says Yaggi. "We need to amplify the voice of communities that are suffering in order to demand action from our leaders at the global level before it’s too late.”
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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