It’s time to get extremely serious about conserving water

The dramatic scene at Folsom Lake in July is a stark reminder of the impact of drought and the imperative to change our mindset about water.
The dramatic scene at Folsom Lake in July is a stark reminder of the impact of drought and the imperative to change our mindset about water. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The message that California is in severe drought is being heard. But more must be done.

We are getting better at conserving water. Many lawns have turned brown. Many of us have put a bucket in the shower to capture water for use on plants. Our cars are dirty. But mandatory cutbacks and threats of $500 fines will go only so far.

The few drops of rain that fell this week aren’t even drops in a bucket. What if very little rain falls this winter and snowfall is light in the Sierra? Are we ready to get extremely serious about conserving water?

Think about what it will look like if California experiences another dry winter and the drought churns into year four. There could be heated regional fights over water rights. Neighbors already are alerting the water police. Coming soon: night patrols for water wasters.

A report issued Thursday by the National Weather Service indicates drought conditions will persist in Northern and Central California, while the north coast and Southern California may get some more precipitation.

While we can hope Mother Nature changes course, we can do much more to conserve water, even if winter brings a normal amount of rain and snow, and reservoirs begin to fill.

The dramatic scene from the near-barren lakebed of Folsom reservoir – the lake is at about one-third capacity – is a reminder of the impact of drought and the imperative to change our mindset about water.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown called for a 20 percent reduction in water use. The State Water Resources Control Board made it a crime to waste water, with offenders subject to fines up to $500 a day.

According to a report released last week by the water board, people cut water use by 4 percent in June, compared to a year ago; in July, there was a 7.5 percent decline. By August, the latest figures available, people had reduced usage by 11.5 percent.

The trend is heading in the right direction. Still, we need to change our behavior and our thinking that we have water in abundance in Northern California. Taking shorter showers and cutting back the time for lawn sprinklers have been the easy first steps.

We all need to realize that we live in an arid state, and take additional measures to cut back even more on water consumption. To further their efforts, many residents are utilizing a popular program many cities offer called “water wise house calls” – a free visit from a specialist, who gives conservation tips in and around your home. Sacramento residents can call (916) 264-5011; Roseville, (916) 774-5761; Folsom, (916) 355-7252.

Roseville, Sacramento and Folsom offer rebates to make sprinkler systems more efficient. Roseville and Sacramento offer rebates for low-flow toilets and high-efficiency washing machines.

The biggest water savings homeowners can achieve is by replacing lawns with native and drought-tolerant plants. Roseville and Sacramento offer landscape rebates in programs called “cash for grass.” More than 550 people have replaced their lawns in Roseville, and the city has saved 45 million gallons of water.

Cities and water agencies will need to focus more on recycling, water re-use, capturing storm water runoff and tiered water rates to achieve maximum results.

Everyone will need to focus on water conservation as a way of life. Otherwise, cities will have to take the lead like Roseville and begin night patrols to ferret out wasteful water use.