Winter 2016 saw improved hydrologic conditions in parts of California. More rain and snow fell in Northern California as compared to Central and Southern California; yet, due to California’s water conveyance systems, concerns over supply reliability have eased even in urban Southern California. Consequently, the mandatory conservation standards put in place by the state have been adjusted
While the end of the state’s mandated water conservation targets is intended to give agencies more flexibility, some experts worry customers are being sent the message it’s no longer vital to conserve.
The Sunnyslope County Water District, the City of Hollister, the Water Resources Association of San Benito County and the San Benito County Water District all met right after the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) released their method for gauging local water supplies for the next three years. Under a complex calculation handed down by the SWRCB, local agencies have to quantify future water supplies given the assumption that California won't receive any more rain and snow in the next three years than it did over the previous three.
Although projected local water supplies are healthy enough to meet urban water demand for that time period, the local agencies felt compelled to maintain water conservation targets. Last year we were at a 25 percent mandatory reductions compared with 2013 water usage. And landscape irrigation was limited to two days per week.
This year, the City of Hollister and Sunnyslope are asking for a 15 percent reduction compared to 2013 water usage and are limiting landscape irrigation to three times per week. Odd numbered addresses are restricted to watering on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Even numbered addresses are restricted to watering on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The City of San Juan Bautista limits landscape irrigation to two days per week (Mondays and Thursdays) and ask for a 25 per cent reduction compared to 2013.
State water officials expect people to keep conserving after suppliers were allowed to set their own water conservation goals for the rest of 2016.
Felicia Marcus, who heads the State Water Resources Control Board, said the savings might be somewhat lower now that the state’s no longer in such “extreme peril” after the winter’s significant snow and rainfall levels.
Yet she’s alarmed because some suppliers believe their ability to meet customers’ water needs means they don’t need to keep conserving. Conservation is just the “right thing to do” as drought cycles may become longer than the normal three to four years, she said.
“I have a lot of faith in the public. I think the public gets it,” Marcus said. “It’s appropriate to relax the standards locally – it’s not appropriate to say, ‘Go use water with wild abandon.”
State urban water use decreased by 28 percent compared to May of 2013, and urban water use for the entire year since emergency conservation mandates were put in place was cut by 24.5 percent from three years earlier.
California agencies at various times have cajoled, motivated or mandated residents and businesses to use less water. Sometimes conservation mandates take the forefront. At other times, not so much.
The vacillating nature of government’s conservation message — sometimes mandatory, sometimes voluntary — is more confusing than perhaps ever before. This does not reflect the great importance of conservation. It reflects an evolution on how best to lower demand and stretch available supplies.
We have to make water conservation a way of life. And here are some compelling reasons:
- When our state enjoys a year of abundant rain and our reservoirs are full, it is easy to think that our water supply is endless. But it's important to remember that in California, the next drought may be just around the corner. Wasting even small amounts of water today means less water is available for the dry times we know will come again.
- Even in normal years, some areas of the state find it difficult to meet all demands for water. Water deliveries from some key water projects have been permanently reduced due to environmental concerns, while other systems struggle with aging infrastructure and other challenges.
- Our state’s population continues to grow, with 60 million Californians expected by 2050. That means more people, farms and businesses will rely on our rivers, reservoirs and groundwater basins for their daily needs.
- Climate change already is affecting California's water resources. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada – the source of much of our runoff and our largest "natural" reservoir – could shrink by as much as 25 percent by 2050. Experts say the changing rain and snowfall patterns will result in longer periods of drought.
The fact is we can no longer take our water supply for granted. While state and local leaders continue to work on long-term solutions to our water challenges