08.19.14Alan Harris

Drought Response: California vs. Texas

Drought ResponseBoth California and Texas have been in an extended drought for years. Which state has the best drought response?

Both the drought in California and the drought in Texas are severe and have been going on for several years. Check out the animation at the end of this post to see how the drought has changed just in 2014.

California Drought Response

California’s response to the drought has been anemic, very late in coming and somewhat ineffective. Governor Brown made a passionate plea to curb water use 20% in January 2014 and called upon the public yet again in April 2014 to redouble the water conservation effort. However, it was not until July 2014, when the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approved emergency drought regulations to prohibit the application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff. Violators of this drought regulation face fines of $500 a day. Prior to the fines being implemented water use actually INCREASED 1%.

According to an AP interview with water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, “If fines fail to promote conservation, the board would consider other steps such as requiring water districts to stop leaks in their pipes, which account for an estimated 10 percent of water use, stricter landscape restrictions and encouraging water agencies to boost rates for consumers who use more than their share of water.”

Texas Drought Response

Conversely, the Texas drought response has been in effect for years. In south central Texas, the Edwards Aquifer recently dropped to a 20 year low. As a result the Edwards Aquifer Authority made the call to move from Stage 3 to Stage 4 water restrictions. Stage 4 means a 40% reduction in the pumping of water from the Edwards Aquifer.  In the City of San Marcos the penalties for breaking Stage 4 conservation rules range from $100 per violation per day up to $2,000 for repeat offenses. Under Stage 4, City officials actively patrol and log instances of drought restriction violations and send out notices to water customers who break the water conservation rules. Stage 4 restricts the use of sprinklers to one day every other week on a designated weekday between 6-10 a.m. or 8 p.m.-midnight. Drip irrigation systems are allowed to water one day every week.

Even in the best of times, Texas has permanent water restrictions in place. While the water restrictions vary between water authorities, typically they include some or all of the following:

  • Waste of water is prohibited at all times. Waste includes allowing water to puddle or run off a property, operating a sprinkler system with broken or misaligned heads, and failing to repair leaks.
  • Irrigation with sprinklers is prohibited during the day, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
  • Charity car washes are prohibited unless held at a commercial car wash.
  • At-home car washing is allowed any time but must be done using a hand-held bucket or hand-held hose equipped with a positive shutoff device.
  • Use of non-recirculating decorative water features is prohibited at all times.

Water conservation in Texas has become a permanent fixture in most people’s lives.

Drought Response in Your Community

One of Richard’s favorite sayings is, “You are either going into or coming out of a drought”. California, Texas and all points between may find drought relief in 2015, but it will take years of above average rain before aquifers and reservoirs are replenished.  Water restrictions will need to stay in effect for years. When the drought comes to your community will you be prepared to reduce your water use by 40% or possibly more? Is your landscape prepared to only be watered once every other week?

If you have liked this post about drought response please share it with a friend, check out my previous posts , follow me on Twitter @h2oMatters and check out water stories I am reading on Flipboard:



2014 Drought Monitor Animation[/Watch the Drought Grow]

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Alan Harris

Alan Harris is a water management pioneer. With roots in landscape architecture, Alan has worked with irrigation throughout his career experimenting with hydrozones and a variety of high efficiency irrigation systems. Now, over thirty years in the landscape industry, Alan continues to stay apprised of the latest technology even in a sales leadership capacity as our Director of Sales Operations for our landscape maintenance division. In addition to his contributions to this blog, Alan keeps his hand in water management as a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine and speaker at WaterSmart Innovations Conference.


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  1. Tuesday, 7:17 Richard Restuccia

    Alan, as usual I enjoyed your post. However, I think you missed an important point. Metropolitan Water District (think water for all of So Cal) doubled the rebate amounts available for installing smart irrigation components like smart controllers, high efficiency nozzles and turf conversions. They have responded quickly the drought with a long term solution. Yes California used more water, it has been hotter and we have had no rain. Incentives for water users to purchase water saving technology is a very positive response to the drought. We also see this is Texas where if you install drip irrigation in most areas you are exempt from the water restrictions for the drip zones.

  2. Tuesday, 7:40 Alan Harris

    I agree…incentives are great tool, but not enough people/companies are taking advantage of them. Sometime a big stick (restrictions/penalty) can help lead people to the carrot (incentives). Last week I was in CA and saw many example of irrigation violations on commercial properties. Perhaps more fines can fund even bigger rebates.

  3. Thursday, 7:18 Richard Restuccia

    Alan, I just learned residents of Southern California applied to receive turf conversion rebates on over 7 million square feet of turf just in the month of July!. I think even you might agree the program is working, it just takes a little time to make long term changes in water use habits.

  4. Monday, 1:19 Bob Harrington

    Nonetheless, California’s domestic per capita daily average water use is less than Texas’s — 124 gal/day in California versus 137 gal/day in Texas. Source: USGS Circular 1324 Table 6.

  5. Monday, 2:18 Alan Harris

    @Bob – the figures you quote are correct.
    However, since domestic use includes residential irrigation it should be noted the yards in Texas are significantly larger than the yards in California.
    Overall California uses 11% and Texas uses 7% of the national total. In California 75% goes to irrigation while in Texas on 33% was used for irrigation. (p4). Irrigation use for CA is 24,400 MGD and 7,800 MGD. The application rate in CA is more than double than TX. (table 7) The reason for the difference has a lot to do with climate. However, from our experience we know many people apply more water than is needed to sustain their landscape or their crops.
    When this report is updated later this year (for 2010) we will have a clearer picture as to the results of conservation efforts in each state. Here is the link to the most current published report from 2005

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