Not long after former Gov. Jerry Brown announced the end of a grueling six-year drought in 2017, the Legislature passed two controversial water-efficiency laws designed to promote even more conservation — even though residents have done a remarkable job reducing their water usage.
Those new laws required utilities to reduce daily water usage by an average of 55 gallons per person by 2023. Some commentators mistakenly claimed that the laws would lead to individual fines, even though the targets applied to water districts rather than consumers.
Conservation boosters reassured Californians that they wouldn’t be fined for overly long showers and lawn watering. But three years later, the state is facing an intense new drought. Now, officials in Northern California are imposing the type of water rationing people had feared. Southern California water agencies are better prepared, but they could ultimately proposed similar rules.
In Healdsburg, officials are now requiring residential and commercial customers to cut their water use by 40 percent – immediately. In Santa Clara County, the 2-million-population county that includes San Jose, the water district recently passed emergency water restrictions that require residents to cut water use 33 percent below 2013 levels.
The current problem isn’t the result of insufficient conservation. Los Angeles residents use about the same amount of water as they did in the 1970s. Residents statewide have met virtually every aggressive state conservation target. Urban residents use only 5.7 percent of the state’s available water.
Aside from imposing stricter conservation mandates, the state government has done precious little since the end of the last drought to make sure that Californians have enough water resources available to weather new droughts. State regulatory agencies continue to delay desalination proposals. Water-storage projects, many of which have been on the books for decades, continue to languish, as has the plan to fix the Delta conveyance system.
Certainly, when there’s little available water people have to use less of it. But the key is planning ahead, not ignoring the state’s water infrastructure and then reacting with increasingly strict water limits when drought conditions return.
The Orange County Register