The drought persists. This summer was the hottest on record. Last month, a National Weather Service meteorologist called the chance of adequate winter rainfall this year “a crapshoot.”
Farmers in the Central Valley are pumping groundwater like there’s no tomorrow. And they may not be wrong; it’s not for nothing that the rest of the world ratified the Paris climate accord on Wednesday.
Thank heaven Californians finally have gotten serious about water conservation – oh, wait.
On Wednesday, to the surprise of pretty much no one, state water authorities reported that the state is already backsliding on last year’s efforts to cut water consumption. Savings were only 18 percent below the 2013 baseline level, compared with 27 percent last year.
Apparently buoyed by the State Water Resources Control Board’s risky decision in May to relax conservation standards in most urban water districts, Californians have reopened the tap, never mind the mission-critical extent to which the state’s water crisis continues.
This could have been avoided. The 2015 conservation mandate ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown made it clear that the situation was urgent. And, not incidentally, the mandate worked.
This is a new world. Human nature is what it is. And hoping for the best won’t make the heat less hot or the drought less brutal.
Californians had all but ignored Brown the year before when he called for voluntary conservation. It took a state of emergency and a news conference held on bare Sierra dirt that should have been covered in snowpack before some parts of the state were willing to break out the low-flow toilets and drought-tolerant landscape. And when everyone pitched in, the results were quite good.
Rather than taking that experience to heart, however, the state water board lifted the mandates at the first whiff of real pressure, when last year’s El Niño system delivered some precipitation. It wasn’t enough, by a long shot, but memories are short.
Instead of the 25 percent average cuts that had been required, urban water districts won permission to “self-certify” conservation targets, based on their three-year projected supply of water. Within hours, some of the state’s 400 water districts scrapped conservation altogether.
And, lo. Behold this week’s results.
No one wants to be stern. But the spikes in water use in districts such as Folsom, San Juan and Sacramento County make it clear that good intentions aren’t going to move the needle.
And while water board chair Felicia Marcus is accurate in noting that the 18 percent savings logged this year is still “a lot of water,” it isn’t enough, particularly when parts of California clearly can’t get past the belief that conservation just isn’t their job.
This is a new world, as the climate accord underscores. And hoping for the best won’t make the heat less hot or the drought less brutal or human nature any less human.
If California is to hold onto the historic strides it has made in saving water, the water conservation mandate should be restored.