In a landmark executive order (pdf) issued on April 1, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown mandated a 25 percent water cutback for urban residents to address the state’s historic drought. Gov. Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to “impose restrictions to achieve a statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage … as compared to the amount used in 2013.” Local agencies may decide how to get customers to reduce consumption, with higher rates being a likely option. The state intends to impose penalties on local agencies that fail to comply with the water restriction goals.

Critics assert that the water restrictions should not target urban users when the agricultural sector consumes 80 percent of water for human use. However, state officials in charge of water, agriculture, fish and game, and other resources insist the seemingly unbalanced cutbacks are not intended to penalize residents while insulating the agricultural sector. According to Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: “Drought is not an issue over who is impacted the most, but rather drought is impacting all of us. It’s not about people or the environment, fish or farms. The task in front of us is how we make it through together.” Similarly, in response to questions regarding the tension between water consumption by urban and agricultural water users, California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said the restrictions are a “balancing act.”

Furthermore, according to Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), it is not accurate to say there are no agricultural restrictions. In fact, water deliveries to farms have been dramatically reduced. The federal Central Valley Project has reduced its deliveries to zero and the State Water Project has cut its allocations to 20 percent.

The executive order also calls for DWR to consider installing rock barriers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (Delta) in order to prevent salt water from entering the rivers due to low flows. Environmentalists oppose the action because it may block fish passage through the Delta, including the threatened delta smelt.