The Current

California must re-think water usage to survive drought

Californians were already parched when the state ordered a 25 per cent cut in water usage two weeks ago. Wells have gone dry, lake levels are low and the aquifers are beyond replenishment. Today, By Design, looks at efforts to re-design cities around the water they have... and the water they don't.
As the drought grinds on in California, the state's getting serious about conserving water and must make major shifts in water usage and agriculture. (REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage)
We're in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action. For that reason I'm issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reduction across our state. As Californians we have to pull together and save water in any way we can.- Jerry Brown, California Governor

Earlier this month, California's governor, Jerry Brown, ordered a cut in water usage of 25 per cent compared to 2013 levels. It's the first time that mandatory water restrictions have been put in place in the Golden State, where the current, punishing drought has been going on now for four long, dry years.

And it's taking a toll on everyone there. Donna Johnson is 72-years-old, living on the frontlines of the drought. .. and doing something about it.

Life in East Porterville, Califonia where Donna Johnson lives, is certainly a far cry from the idyllic California we usually imagine. It's a land of movie stars and vineyards; a land of unprecedented growth and wealth. But the drought is raising questions about whether California can really continue on that path today, without a major "redesign" to adapt.

So today - as part of our series 'By Design', we're asking how to better design our cities and the way we live, to cope with crises such as the ongoing drought in California.

Kevin Starr is a professor of history at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was in San Francisco.

California's drought signals an era where re-invention is the only way to survive. According to history professor, Kevin Starr, this is a trans formative moment for California to re-invent itself through water usage.

California's drought — and the new limitations on water use — are bringing some big lifestyle changes to America's most populous state. City dwellers can rhyme off their new water saving ways, like a laundry list.

Designers are also looking for solutions to cope with the drought. It's the kind of problem Hadley Arnold has spent a lot of time thinking about. She's the founding coordinator of the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University in Burbank California... and her work there is all about finding solutions for cities facing drought... solutions such as capturing rainwater effectively.

This story is part of our season-long project, By Design. You can listen to more stories at

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar and Vancouver Network Producer Anne Penman.