Two months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown discarded all mandatory water conservation targets and allowed cities, water districts and private companies in California to set their own targets.
The changes were somewhat necessary, however, as experts pointed out they also obscured the “we’re all in this together campaign”, and the results prove that the newfound easement could erase the progress of the past years, a reckless move given that half of the state is still in a severe drought.
Eighty-four percent of the 411 of the largest cities—343 urban water agencies— set a conservation target of zero for the rest of the year. The list includes San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, the Contra Costa the Alameda County Water District and the cities of Palo Alto, Fresno and Riverside.
To avoid stricter water conservation mandates, the state adopted a “stress test” as the new water conservation process. Water agencies needed to check their average consumption during the 2012-2015 drought period to show that they had enough water in their reservoirs, groundwater or contracts with other agencies to serve customers for three more years.
Since many water suppliers chose zero, one could only expect that they are prepared. But, are they?
Tracy Quinn, a water policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said to Water Deeply on July 14th, 2016 that the problem is that even if they show that their water resources could be exhausted by the end of 2019, they still had no obligation to conserve water, and state officials confirmed last August that they took the agencies at their word and did not verify any of the numbers submitted in their paperwork.
And, we cannot forget that this less rigorous conservation requirement is the result of a relatively ONE wet winter, which basically released the grip on California’s Northern half, that now requires years, even decades, of wet winters to counteracted the damage caused by the drought. Additionally, Groundwater storage is still pumped at unsustainable rates across California, and the Sierra Nevada’s snowpack was only 85 percent of normal at the end of winter, which means an increase of liquid precipitation and less snowpack storage- long term signs of climate change.
Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, stated that waterboard officials have decided that if rains do not come down by January and conservation efforts are not amended, mandatory conservation targets would come back.
However, we should not wait for rain to cover our neglected conservation efforts.