Necessary Measures Implemented By A Good Man, In A Great State, In A Moment Of Ecological Crisis

California Governor Jerry Brown, left, discusses snowpack at Phillips Station, which this year is bare in April for the first time ever. PHOTOGRAPH BY MAX WHITTAKER/GETTY

California Governor Jerry Brown, left, discusses snowpack at Phillips Station, which this year is bare in April for the first time ever. PHOTOGRAPH BY MAX WHITTAKER/GETTY

We cannot say it is good news, but it is heartening to read news of a man we have always admired taking action in the great state of California, the land of endless possibilities (except where water is concerned). Deniers, back off. Get with the program:

Phillips Station sits about sixty-eight hundred feet up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, not far from the ski resorts near the southern shore of Lake Tahoe. Each year around this time, a surveyor from the California Department of Water Resources thrusts a hollow, aluminum tube into the snow at Phillips Station—one of a number of such stations across the state—to collect a cylindrical sample. The aim is to measure the depth of the snow, which, as it melts and trickles down the mountain and into rivers and reservoirs, becomes one of California’s most crucial sources of water.

Early April is a key time for this measurement, because that’s when the snow tends to be at its deepest; what you see then indicates how much runoff to expect. Still, the April test tends to be unceremonious: a small group of surveyors travels to the measuring spot, gets a sample, and leaves. This year, though, Governor Jerry Brown showed up, as did reporters and TV crews. At Phillips Station, the snow is, on average, more than sixty-six inches deep at this time of year; in 2015, the governor and his entourage arrived at a landscape of thin grass and bald earth. In all of the Aprils that the snow there has been measured, going back to 1941, this is the first time that Phillips Station has been bare.

Frank Gehrke, the state’s chief surveyor, stood in front of those assembled and held the empty surveying tube upright, like an explorer who couldn’t find a good spot to plant his flag. “This is bad news, in terms of the state’s water picture,” he said. Gehrke then ceded the lectern to Brown, who said the same and then told the audience that, because the state is in the fourth year of a historic drought, he would be signing an executive order to implement the state’s first-ever mandatory reduction in water use, with the aim of achieving a twenty-five per cent decrease from 2013 levels. The state expects to accomplish this by requiring decreases in the water supplied to cities and towns. (The mandate doesn’t apply to large farms that get their water from sources other than local agencies, even though they use much more water, in aggregate, than municipalities—the reasoning being that agricultural uses are more crucial than some municipal uses, such as watering the grass on medians.) “We’re in a new era,” Brown said. “The idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day—that’s going to be a thing of the past.”

Perhaps more interesting than the water-reduction target, though, were some other components of the executive order that shed light on Brown’s—and others’—thinking about California’s future. In addition to the mandate for a twenty-five-per-cent reduction in water use, he is also calling on the Department of Water Resources to partner with local agencies to replace fifty million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with “drought-tolerant landscapes.” (About half of the state’s urban water goes toward residential and commercial landscaping.) California will also launch a rebate program to encourage people to replace old, water-guzzling appliances with newer, energy-efficient ones. And the state will help businesses, residents, industries, and farmers to adopt the latest water-management technologies, like on-site reuse systems, software to monitor water use, and timers for irrigation systems. What these measures have in common is that they look to change the way Californians use water all the time—not just during emergencies like this one…

Read the whole post here.

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