- - Monday, April 6, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

California excess is the stuff of the tabloids, often entertainment for all, but the drought is not funny. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered mandatory water restrictions for the first time, extending them far beyond the manicured lawns of Brentwood, the vineyards of Sonoma and the Napa Valley and the scenic coastline of picture postcards. When the going gets tough, the tough will have to turn off the taps. It’s going to hurt.

The “visuals” match the hard truth. The Squaw Valley Ski Resort, usually covered in several inches of snow at the end of March, is brown and parched. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is thinner than in any year since 1950. The streams of the San Gabriel River valley and the dams show the effects of drought, too.

This is the fourth year of severe drought in California, and the governor ordered the California Water Resources Control Board to implement restrictions to reduce water consumption by 25 percent. Golf courses, parks, cemeteries and other large landscaped areas must incorporate “drought-tolerant” landscaping, and grass on street medians will soon be a forbidden indulgence. Enforcement will be a challenge. “It’s a different world,” Mr. Brown says. “We have to act differently.”

New legislation, including costs of $1 billion, was signed by the governor last week, most of it for long-term projects such as recycling sewage water, improving treatment facilities and desalination plants. Mr. Brown advocates building two large water tunnels to move water from north, where it is abundant, to the south, where it is not, and the environmentalists are not happy about that.

California is learning that it can’t continue to be California, attracting newcomers with abandon. “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California, tells The New York Times. “This is literally a culture that since the 1880s has progressively invented, invented and reinvented itself. At what point does this invention begin to hit limits? California is not going to go under, but we are going to have to go in a different way.”

The governor agrees. “For over 10,000 years, people lived in California,” he says, “but the number of those people was never more than 300,000 or 400,000. Now we are embarked upon an experiment that no one has ever tried: 38 million people, with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain. This will require adjustment. This will require learning.”

The governor’s executive order mandates a reduction in water use throughout the state, to be achieved with varying requirements in different cities and villages. The 400 local water supply agencies will determine how to do that; much of it by imposing new restrictions on watering lawns. These won’t apply to farms, which consume by far most of the state’s water.

Farms, which account for 80 percent of human consumption of water, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank, are spared for good reasons. “They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” Mr. Brown tells The Wall Street Journal of the farmers. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world.” This nevertheless pains many liberals, who like to eat just like everyone else but sometimes don’t understand where food comes from. Farmers are urged to move away from certain water-intensive crops like rice, almonds and certain other fruits and vegetables. Farmers must say goodbye to alfalfa, and pray for rain.

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