The four-year drought that’s parching California has prompted the state to take drastic measures – a ban on building new homes that don’t meet strict water-efficiency standards.
California is home to one of the largest homebuilding markets in the United States, and standards set there often spread to other markets.
So far, the drought hasn't slowed homebuilding in the Golden State. Traditionally, new home construction in California has been much slower than the rest of the country. Between 1980 and 2010, for instance, new home construction in the state's coastal metro areas increased by 32%, compared with 54% nationally. That effectively pushes prices higher - an average California home costs $440,000 today, about two-and-a-half times the average national home price of $180,000.
However, new home construction in 2014 was on pace with construction levels in 2013.
California’s drought has prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to adopt emergency restrictions, meaning that household rationing will likely be implemented by some local water agencies to reduce water usage by 25%, the removal of 50 million square feet of lawns.
The restrictions on homebuilding aren’t as burdensome for California builders as they may appear at first blush.
New homes and developments can’t be built unless they meet landscaping requirements that mandate the use of drought-resistant plants and recycled water for irrigation.
Homebuilders already have to follow an existing strict code that limits water use that mandate low-flow toilets, faucets and showers. Homes built there in the last 10 years are 50% more water efficient than older homes.
California’s water supply comes largely from snowmelt in the Sierra and other western mountains, and measures show the water equivalent of the snow is at 5% of normal, the lowest on record for this time of year.
California’s reservoirs capture the water from the snowmelt in the spring. But this year, those reservoirs are already barely half full.
Worse, California’s rain season doesn’t start until the fall, while water usage is heaviest in the summer.
The natural decline in snowpack has been made far worse by the White House, which in 2009 cut off water to the Central Valley in order to protect several species of fish, citing the Endangered Species Act.
Further, the legislature in the state is considering a rebate program to promote water fixture replacement in older homes.