TIME Environment

California Drought Leads to Historic Toilet Policy

The California Energy Commission mandated on Tuesday that new toilets and faucets sold in California must conserve water

California officials working to combat the state’s four-year drought are taking aim at everyday practices that use billions of gallons of water each year: flushing toilets and running faucets.

The California Energy Commission took emergency action on Tuesday by mandating that all toilets, urinals and faucets sold in the state must conserve water. That means only low-flush toilets and low-flow sinks will be allowed for sale after Jan. 1, 2016, regardless of when they were manufactured. The mandate applies to both public places and private residences.

“We’re seeing serious dry spell here in California,” says Amber Beck, a spokesperson for the commission. “And we need to make sure we are not only saving water right now but in the coming years.” These regulations come less than a week after Governor Jerry Brown imposed the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, aimed at cutting the state’s usage by 25%.

The commission’s action will set historic efficiency standards for appliances in the Golden State, which are much stricter than the voluntary standards laid out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense conservation program. As of 2016, all urinals sold in California can use only one pint of water or less per flush; the current standard is one gallon, while the EPA will put its WaterSense stamp of approval on any urinal that uses half a gallon or less.

The commission estimates that the new standards will save 10 billion gallons of water in the first year, and more than 100 billion gallons as old appliances are replaced by new ones over the coming years. As of January, there were more than 45 million faucets, 30 million toilets and 1 million urinals operating in California.

Read next: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

TIME Environment

The Number of Sea Lions Washing Up on Californian Shores Is Higher Than Ever

Sea lions
Rich Lewis—Getty Images/Flickr

Rising sea temperatures mean less food for the mammals

Emaciated sea lions are showing up on beaches in Southern California at unprecedented rates, because rising sea temperatures have reduced the populations of sardines and squid that form their main diet.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reports that a record-breaking 2,250 sea lions, largely young pups, have washed ashore in California so far this year.

That’s double the number seen in 2013 (which was previously the worst winter season for the mammals) and 20 times the stranding rate over the same period during the past decade, Reuters reports.

Read: Why Hundreds of Starving Sea Lion Pups Are Washing Up in California

In March alone, 1,050 sea lions — the highest number recorded in a month — were stranded according to scientists tracking their rates at an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

California’s rescue facilities have been overwhelmed by the surge, with teams working frantically to rehabilitate the starving animals.

[Reuters]

TIME Environment

California Governor Defends Water Restrictions That Largely Spare Farms

California Drought Reveals Uneven Water Usage
Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Ramona, Calif.

"I can tell you from California, climate change is not a hoax"

Governor Jerry Brown defended his state’s new mandatory water restrictions on Sunday as critics claim they largely spare some farms that consume much of California’s water.

The state’s farms account for 80% of its water consumption but only 2% of its economy, according to the think tank Public Policy Institute of California. But Brown asserted in an ABC News interview taking water away from farmers could create a number of problems, including displacing hundreds of thousands of people and cutting off a region that provides a significant fraction of the country’s food supply.

“They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” he said. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America and a significant part of the world.”

At the end of the interview, the Democratic governor reiterated a broad warning after four years of drought. “I can tell you from California, climate change is not a hoax,” he said. “We’re dealing with it, and it’s damn serious.”

[ABC News]

Read next: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

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TIME Environment

California’s Water Crisis By the Numbers

California Drought Rice Harvest
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Rice harvested by Mike DeWitt is loaded into trucks near Davis, Calif., Oct. 10, 2014. DeWitt is among the Sacramento Valley farmers who planted 25 percent less rice than normal because of water cutbacks.

Almost two-thirds of water is used for agriculture — but Gov. Jerry Brown's measures apply mainly to urban areas

California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday imposed historic water controls on the drought-stricken state. But who will the burden of conserving water fall upon? Here, nine numbers that explain the new measures:

25%
The amount by which cities and towns across the state must reduce water use under Brown’s new regulations. That would total about 487.5 billion gallons of water over the next nine months.

50 million square feet
The area of lawns throughout the state to be replaced by “drought tolerant landscaping,” in partnership with local governments. The plan will also require university campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to make “significant cuts” in water use, Brown said.

38 billion gallons
The amount of water used every day throughout California according to 2010 estimates, more than any other state in the country.

16.6%
The average share of water consumption in the U.S. that goes toward domestic purposes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, such as washing dishes or drinking water.

80-100 gallons
The amount of water the average American goes through a day, much of it in the bathroom, according to the USGS. Showers use on average two to two-and-a-half gallons per minute. A full tub holds an estimated 36 gallons. Washing your hands and face take a gallon, while toilet flushes in older models use three gallons. (Newer ones use closer to one and a half.) Washers also go through a significant amount of water: about 25 gallons a load in newer models.

70 gallons
The amount of water used by San Francisco Bay Area residents after Brown asked Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 20%. Some in Southern California continued to use some 300 gallons a day on amenities such as lawns and swimming pools.

$10,000
The possible daily fine for those of California’s 400 local water agencies who fail to meet the governor’s 25% target.

61%
The average share of the nation’s water that is used for agricultural purposes, including irrigation and livestock (Another 17.4% goes to thermoelectric power plants). In California that share is about 80%.

76,400
Number of California farms and ranches, which produced $21 billion in agricultural exports in 2013, according to the California Department of Food & Agriculture, including $7.6 billion in milk and $5.8 billion in almonds. More than 400 different crops and commodities are grown in the state, accounting for 14.7% total U.S. agricultural exports. The measures announced by Governor Brown on Wednesday do not apply to the agriculture industry.

 

TIME Environment

3 Maps That Explain Why California Is Restricting Water

California Drought
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Houseboats float in the drought-lowered waters of Oroville Lake near Oroville, Calif., Oct. 30, 2014. Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1, 2015, ordered sweeping and unprecedented measures to save water in California.

Extreme drought combined with higher temperatures and very little snow

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued mandatory water use restrictions Wednesday for the first time in the state’s history, ordering towns and cities to cut water use by 25%, which will affect everything from farms to golf courses to residents’ front lawns.

The state has been experiencing drought-like conditions since 2011 but in the last few months, things have gotten even worse. Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range has hit all-time lows for this time of year while temperatures remain above average, making an already dire situation worse. Below are three maps showing just how dire things have gotten throughout the state.

MORE: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

1. Extreme Drought Conditions

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, 99.85% of California experienced drought conditions as of March 31, affecting 37 million people; 40% of the state is currently considered to be in an “exceptional drought.”

 

California drought
California drought key

 

 

2. Snowpack at all time-lows

Snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range at this time of year would normally begin melting and become part of the state’s overall water supply. But snowpack is at roughly 5% of its April average, which can be seen in these maps by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One researcher with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service told the USA Today that snowpack statewide is “the worst in a century.”

Snowpack 2011
Snowpack 2015

 

3. Temperatures above average

On top of all that, temperatures have been higher than normal in the first three months of the year, accelerating persistent drought conditions and leading to increased evaporation of the water sources that remain. Some places in the state over the last few months have experienced temperatures more than 10 degrees above normal, according to the NOAA Regional Climate Centers.

 

California average temperature

 

TIME cities

Los Angeles Will Spend $1.3 Billion to Fix Its Crumbling Sidewalks

The deal is a major win for disabled Angelenos

The City of Los Angeles said Wednesday that it will budget $1.3 billion over 30 years t0 repair broken sidewalks, resolving a lawsuit that claimed the walkways were in such poor condition they violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The suit argued that the sidewalks relegated disabled Angelenos to second-class citizenship because they were so cracked as to be not traversable and thus interfered with the independence of disabled people, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Lillibeth Navarro, executive director of the group Communities Actively Living Independent and Free, called the deal a “major win” for people with disabilities.

Starting next fiscal year, the city will spend $31 million annually on the project, with the number rising to $63 million in future years. The first focus will be on parks and heavily trafficked walkways like those outside hospitals.

A federal judge still needs to approve the exact terms of the deal.

The reason sidewalks fell into a decrepit state is because when federal money the city relied on for maintenance dried up, property owners were unwilling to raise taxes to cover the expense.

It is estimated that 40% of sidewalks need repair in the City of Angels.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME movies

Watch the New Trailer for Straight Outta Compton

“Speak a little truth and people lose their minds”

Universal Pictures just released a new trailer for its upcoming biopic of legendary Los Angeles rap group N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton.

F. Gary Gray’s film documents the rise and fall of the West Coast group during the mid-1980s on the dangerous streets of Compton, Calif. In the clip, we see a glimpse of the tough world that Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) describe in their brutally honest songs.

The trailer shows the group’s struggle amid the poverty, violence, police brutality and gang warfare that permeated their California neighborhood, and how they eventually succeeded in giving a voice to inner-city America, revolutionizing music forever.

Straight Outta Compton hits theaters Aug. 14.

TIME weather

This March Was the Hottest on Record for West Coast Cities

It's not necessarily a sign of climate change, meteorologists say

Last month was the hottest March on record for cities scattered across the West Coast, with temperatures consistently higher than those posted in earlier years in places like Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Los Angeles and San Diego marked at least five days of 90°F or above temperatures, with San Diego experiencing 17 consecutive months of a progressively warmer climate. Both cities also produced new record-breaking monthly averages hovering in the 60°Fs, the Associated Press reported.

“All of the West Coast … even up into Oregon, Washington … have seen record-breaking temperatures this winter, and March just continued this same theme,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt.

Texas, Nevada and Montana followed California’s warming trend, which meteorologists say was precipitated by a high-pressure ridge blanketing the Western region of the U.S. by creating a storm pushover area, which then buffeted the northeast. There is no indication the high-pressure system will dissipate anytime soon.

This has created problems in areas like drought-hit California, where Governor Jerry Brown introduced water limits this week to save the state’s scarce water supply.

[AP]

TIME weather

California Imposes First-Ever Mandatory Water Restrictions

Weeds grow in dry cracked earth that used to be the bottom of Lake McClure in La Grange, California on March 24, 2015.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Weeds grow in dry cracked earth that used to be the bottom of Lake McClure in La Grange, California on March 24, 2015.

The state is facing a historic drought

California’s governor issued unprecedented mandatory water restrictions for the entire state on Wednesday, in the face of a persistent drought that is growing dire.

Governor Jerry Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to cut the state’s water usage by 25% by enacting a series of water-reduction practices, which could translate to savings of about 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months. The plan would include replacing 50 million sq. ft. of lawns throughout the state with drought-tolerant landscaping, replacing appliances with energy-efficient models and enforcing restricted water use for places like golf courses and cemeteries. Additional measures will address agricultural water use and investment in water-saving technologies.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Brown in a statement referring to the record-low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. “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.”

The order also asks local water agencies to implement conservation pricing, which can encourage water reductions and discourage waste. Local water suppliers will be required to report water usage, conservation and enforcement actions every month.

A year ago, Governor Brown declared the drought a state of emergency. The drought has lasted four years so far.

TIME weather

California’s Snowpack Reaches All-Time Low During Drought

Low snow levels indicate water supplies will continue to be scarce through much of the year

The snow that typically tops California’s mountains and is critical to maintaining the state’s water supply dropped to a record low level this year.

Because of an abnormally warm winter and little precipitation, the California Department of Water Resources has estimated that the California snowpack level is 8 percent of the historical average, as of late March. A manual survey of snow levels will be conducted in April. The previous record low for the snowpack level, at 25 percent of the average, was set in 1977 and was seen again last winter.

The lack of snow could have big implications for California’s battle against an ongoing drought. A department of water resources official told the San Francisco Chronicle that snowpacks typically provides 30 percent of the state’s water supply after the snow melts in spring and summer. With that resource nearly wiped out this winter, Californians will likely have to continue to limit their water use in the coming months.

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