Remember that “historic” drought? The one that erased snow from the Sierra and was turning the Central Valley into a dusty bowl?
Remember how it was supposed to be permanent? How all Californians need to forever change the wasteful ways we use water because most of the state is, in fact, a desert?
We remember. We’re not sure about the State Water Resources Control Board and some local water agencies, though.
Dazzled by winter precipitation that, while wetter than before, failed to measure up to even normal snowpack, the board this week voted to lift a statewide conservation mandate that had been in effect since last summer.
No longer will urban water districts be required to ensure their customers cut usage by an average of 25 percent over 2013 levels. Instead, the districts will be allowed to “self-certify” their conservation targets based on assessments of their water supplies and anticipated demand over the next three years.
Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state water board, told The Bee’s Ryan Sabalow that continuing the state-ordered mandate for another year “seems too harsh.”
Within hours of the board’s decision, several of the state’s more than 400 water districts started scrapping conservation efforts altogether. Many, including districts in the Sacramento region, said they will stop requiring customers to save water – at all.
The Placer County Water Agency, for example, says it has more than enough supply to meet demand and that it will recommend that its conservation target be zero.
San Juan Water District is considering the same thing, in part because Folsom Lake is so full that dam operators in February had to release thousands of acre-feet of water a day as a precaution against flooding.
In fairness, this winter made it easy to forget.
After four years of drought, El Niño brought more rain and snow to Sacramento and other parts of Northern California than in any winter in recent years. Southern California wasn’t so lucky.
That’s why experts warn that more than 70 percent of the state remains in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. In addition, the Sierra snowpack, while perfect for skiing and snowboarding much of the winter, is still at less than normal for this time of year.
Water districts should keep this in mind as they assess their supplies and set conservation targets for the state.
To do less would be to tempt nature. Remember that climatologists predict a dry La Niña weather pattern this year.
Getting off the conservation bandwagon would send the wrong message to Congress. Federal lawmakers are considering legislation from Sen. Dianne Feinstein that, while marketed as a bill to solve the drought, is more aimed at securing funding to deal with California’s outdated and ecologically inefficient water system. If Californians don’t care about water, why should they?
California has made historic strides in the past five years to change our mindset on wasting water. Let’s not backslide. It’s fine not to be harsh, but let’s stay on the right side of nature and history.