If the latest predictions are correct, there’s a good chance that one of the wettest, most powerful El Niños on record is headed straight for California. When – or, we should say, if – that rain does arrive, it will be a welcome reprieve from four years of drought.
But don’t let up on water conservation yet.
One rainy winter will not recharge our reservoirs, replenish all of our underground basins or refill all of our riverbeds. That will take years of normal rainfall, especially here in Northern California, and our future is far from certain.
Therefore, we applaud state and local leaders for continuing to carefully consider new ways to save water.
Last week, the California Energy Commission adopted tougher requirements for low-flow shower heads, building on similar orders issued in April to expedite the proliferation of water-efficient faucets and toilets.
This is a big deal because showers and faucets make up about 40 percent of residential indoor water use. For showering alone, Californians use about 186 billion gallons a year.
After July 2016, all shower heads sold in California must spit out 20 percent less water. Shower heads sold after July 2018 must cut water flows an additional 10 percent. Regulators expect that to translate into saving about 2.4 billion gallons in the first year. Sales of water-efficient faucets and toilets will save another 730 billion gallons over the next decade.
Those are no-brainer ways to conserve water, just like asking residents to water their lawns only a few days each week, or, better yet, requesting that they replace their lawns with drought-resistant landscaping, as the city of Davis has done at a series of workshops this summer.
Far more complicated are measures to let people rip up their grass and put down artificial turf.
Several California cities, including Roseville, already allow this. But the Sacramento Planning and Design Commission last week delayed a vote on whether to allow fake grass to be 1.25 inches high in front and side yards.
On the surface, lifting the decades-old ban on artificial grass seems like a simple way to help residents save even more water than they’re already saving. Sacramento-area households cut their usage by 37 percent in July, according to the Regional Water Authority.
But there are environmental concerns, including whether the turf will eventually clog landfills or kill microbes in the soil that trees need to survive. There’s also the mind-boggling notion that artificial turf gets so hot in the Central Valley sun that people have been known to water it just so they can walk on it.
The commission was wise to take a step back.
The drought is an emergency, and we must continue to treat it as such, implementing as many water conservation measures as possible. But we must be smart about it.