There is nothing like an epic drought to get Californians talking about water. Wherever you go these days, people are discussing the latest news on water restrictions and sharing advice for reducing use over the long, hot summer.
The conversation is vital because it will take massive awareness and the cooperation of every Californian to achieve state-mandated reductions in water use in urban areas. Beginning this month, local urban water suppliers are required to meet conservation targets ranging from 8 percent to 36 percent under emergency regulations adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board. The targets are designed to achieve the 25 percent reduction in overall statewide water use ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1.
There is no time to waste. While many local agencies are well on their way, others have a heavy lift, especially in hotter inland areas where summer water use is higher. The next three months will be critical for these areas to hit their targets or face potential fines.
In many communities, residents and businesses are being asked to immediately limit watering of ornamental lawns and landscapes. Cutting back on watering lawns is the fastest and easiest way to reduce use and preserve supplies for next year. And it can be done without cutting into the fabric of our economy or affecting jobs and livelihoods.
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Since the governor issued his executive order last month, local water suppliers have moved to enact outdoor water use restrictions, beef up outreach and education and provide incentives such as turf rebates. They are rolling out software and tools to help consumers manage their water use, and they continue to partner with businesses to get conservation reminders in restaurants, hotels and other places.
During the past century, California has experienced 10 drought episodes. Since the last major drought ended in the early 1990s, local agencies have invested nearly $20 billion to augment and diversify their supply by expanding water recycling and conservation, building local and regional water storage projects, cleaning up contaminated groundwater and more. As a result, we are better prepared for drought now than at any other time in our history.
For evidence, consider that we are in the fourth year of a historic drought and our economy is still going strong. The agricultural sector has taken the brunt of the impact – with severe cuts in water deliveries for the last two years – but has responded by prioritizing high-value crops and continues to show resiliency in an extremely difficult water supply year.
Even as we manage through the drought emergency right now, local water agencies continue to plan and invest in even more conservation, recycling, groundwater sustainability and other programs as part of an “all-of-the-above” approach to meet our 21st-century water needs.
Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond approved by California voters last November, will help accelerate those investments, guided by a comprehensive water action plan outlined by Brown.
For now, we need Californians to heed the call to save water. Immediately cut back on outdoor water use. Stop watering lawn areas that you do not use. It’s OK to let your grass get brown this summer, but be sure to take care of your trees. Indoors, do all you can to shorten showers and fix leaks. Take advantage of rebates to upgrade appliances and toilets and to replace some of the turf in your lawn with drought-friendly flora.
Yes, we are in an epic drought. But we weathered many droughts over the decades. Local water agencies will provide the careful management of supplies their customers expect and deserve. And Californians in turn will rise to the occasion and reduce their water use.
John A. Coleman is president of the Association of California Water Agencies and a director of the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Kathleen Tiegs is vice president of ACWA and a director of the Cucamonga Valley Water District. Visit saveourwater.com for tools and resources.