The State Water Resources Control Board announced Oct. 5 that urban Californians’ monthly water conservation declined to 17.7 percent in August, down from 27 percent savings in August 2015. The decline raises concerns that some water suppliers are abandoning their focus on conservation as California heads into a possible sixth year of drought.
Are We Getting Apathetic?
These declines highlight the need for continued education and dialogue with customers on the importance of conserving and using water as efficiently as possible. As the State Water Board continues to monitor conservation levels, a return to state-mandated conservation may be necessary beginning next year. “The statewide August conservation results raise questions, and we are examining the data to understand why some areas slipped more than others,” said State Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus. “Are we seeing relaxation of conservation messaging and programs or are we seeing abandonment of programs?
One may be appropriate, the other is not. It’s a mixed picture. Many communities who certified that they didn’t ‘need’ to conserve are still conserving up a storm, while others have slipped more than seems prudent.” Marcus added: “While last year’s rain and snow brought a respite for urban California, we are still in drought, and we can’t know what this winter will bring. What we do know is that climate change will continue to make our water years even more unpredictable, so we need to retain our conservation habits for the long term, rain or shine, drought or no drought.”
Stress Test Standards
Under the board’s revised emergency water conservation regulations, urban water agencies have the ability to set their own conservation standards based on a “stress test” of supply reliability. Water suppliers had to document that they have sufficient supplies to withstand three years of continuous drought or take additional measures that include state-imposed mandatory conservation targets. The regulation is in effect through January 2017.
Of more than 400 local water agencies in California, 343 suppliers passed their stress test. Of those, 114 suppliers – or about a third – saved more than 20 percent in August, compared with the same month in 2013. These suppliers serve more than seven million people and include Sacramento, Alameda County Water District (Fremont, Newark and Union City), San Gabriel Valley Water Company, San Gabriel Valley Fontana Water Company, Los Angeles County Public Works Waterworks District 40 (Antelope Valley), California-American Water Company Sacramento District, Contra Costa Water District, San Bernardino, Oceanside, Hayward, and Pomona.
EBMUD passed the stress test but customers saved only 16 percent in August 2016 compared with August 2013. While some local water suppliers may have relaxed water use restrictions from those that were in place last summer, most agencies have kept up locally mandated restrictions and targets, which is appropriate and which the state strongly encourages.
Regardless of a supplier’s individual conservation requirement, the statewide prohibitions on specific wasteful practices such as fountains without recirculating pumps, or irrigation of turf in street medians, remain in place.
The legislature’s passage and the governor’s signing of SB 814 will help water suppliers send monetary signals to their highest users about the need to keep conserving while the drought continues. Markus said, “We urge suppliers where conservation levels have dropped steeply to reach out to high use customers to find ways to conserve, and to join their community’s conservation efforts. The legislature’s passage and governor’s signing of SB 814 will help water suppliers send monetary signals to their highest users about the need to keep conserving while the drought continues. Most important, it sends a signal that all Californians are in this together and that fairness includes those who use the most doing their part along with the rest of us.”
SB 814 (Hill) requires urban water suppliers to establish financial penalties for excess water use during droughts. The recently adopted regulation is part of a wider effort to establish permanent conservation measures that improve long-term drought preparedness and eliminate the worst water-wasting practices.
These actions will help achieve a top priority of the state’s Water Action Plan – to “Make Conservation a California Way of Life.”
This article first appeared in the October 26, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Judith Schumacher-Jennings.