Water Conservation Wanes in California

It’s been a year since the emergency drought order was lifted following the state’s rough five-year stretch. But now some are concerned that water use is back to pre-drought levels.

Water Conservation Wanes in California

The most recent data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows about one-third of the country in drought. Although California is beyond the severe drought that plagued it from 2012 to 2017, some state officials are concerned that conservation is on the decline. (Image from U.S. Drought Monitor)

Water conservation in California is on the decline, according to the data the State Water Resources Control Board has collected monthly since adopting an emergency conservation regulation in 2014 in the midst of severe drought.

Although the mandate for reporting data is no longer in place, most water providers continue to report their production numbers, and February — the most recent data available — marked the seventh time in the last nine months that the amount of water conservation has declined statewide. After the steady decline, water use is now officially back to pre-drought levels. Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency drought order over in April 2017 after a winter of healthy precipitation produced good mountain snowpack and replenished reservoirs.

“You don’t want to jump to a conclusion and say the sky is falling, everybody has forgotten how to conserve,” Felicia Marcus, water board chairwoman, said in a report by the Mercury News. “But having been through what we’ve been through, we obviously want people to stay aware and redouble our efforts.”

Marcus says contributing factors to the current trend include stretches of hot and dry weather this year (temperatures hit 80s on multiple days in January in Southern California) that have prompted more lawn watering, reduced media coverage on conservation since the governor lifted the emergency drought mandate, and water suppliers themselves removing conservation advertising and rules they had in place during the drought.

“People did a fantastic job of conserving water and using it more efficiently during the drought,” Tracy Quinn, California director of water efficiency for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Mercury News. “We expected some rebound, particularly from people who had stopped watering their lawns, but certainly not to this extent.

“It’s exacerbated by some water suppliers saying they have plenty of water and there’s no need to conserve. They need to sell water to recover their fixed costs, so there is going to be a conflict of interest in really driving conservation.”

The state water board is in the process of considering making permanent emergency water-wasting regulations that were in place during the drought, like bans on hosing down sidewalks, prohibitions against lawn irrigation immediately after rain, and requirements for hotels to post signs telling guests that they can choose to not have towels and sheets washed everyday.

“You’ve got to always assume not that the next year is going to be dry, but that the next five years might be dry,” Marcus said.

While most reservoirs remain at average levels or near full at the moment, the Sierra snowpack is less than normal and rainfall totals around the state since Oct. 1 have also been less than average.

Most of California continues to be in some sort of drought status, just not at the severe levels that existed from 2012 to 2017. In fact, as of April 10, drought is affecting large swaths of the country. The latest reports from the U.S. Drought Monitor show a drought status for about one-third of the country, most severely in areas of the Southwest. That’s three times the drought coverage of a year ago.

Source: The Mercury News


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