State should give Sacramento region a break on water conservation

Families like this one in Roseville have cut their water use by more than 80 percent by replacing lawns with drought-resistant plants.
Families like this one in Roseville have cut their water use by more than 80 percent by replacing lawns with drought-resistant plants. Sacramento Bee file

Water providers from throughout the Sacramento region will urge the State Water Resources Control Board on Wednesday to release their customers from emergency conservation targets as local water supplies recover from drought.

In their place, we will continue local programs to encourage ongoing improvements in water efficiency.

Many have expressed strong opinions that California’s drought is not over, but they haven’t offered a clear way to know when it is. While the drought may not be at an end everywhere in the state, any reasonable measure would suggest that the emergency has fully abated for the Sacramento region.

The region was among the first affected by the drought in late 2013. As Folsom Lake dropped to historic lows, local suppliers pledged to reduce water use by 20 percent, before the governor declared a drought emergency. Local residents reduced water use by 19 percent in 2014 while other parts of the state lagged. The region cut water use 31 percent from June 2015 to February 2016, contributing to the mandatory statewide 25 percent goal.

Now, Folsom Lake is well above average, as are Shasta and Oroville. Flood releases coursed down the American River through much of March, significant snowpack remains in the Sierra and local groundwater basins are refilling.

Since the Sacramento region is among the first to recover, it makes sense for the water board to ease mandatory conservation here first as well, eliminating enforced rationing for areas with ample water supplies.

Continuing emergency conservation in the region will not help the environment or others in the state. Federal and state restrictions virtually preclude transferring conserved water to those who need it south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta during much of the year.

Keeping emergency restrictions during a non-emergency risks great harm to the credibility of the state water board and local water providers, making it less likely that customers will make the same sacrifices during the next drought.

We recognize the challenge the board faces and appreciate its leadership in permanently changing how Californians use water. But it’s time for the board to release this region from the emergency conservation measures that will erode public goodwill and distract from the hard work ahead – to build on the momentum for water efficiency and continue the decline in water use that started more than a decade ago.

It’s time for Northern California to look beyond the drought and focus on continuing reductions in long-term water use and continuing investments in supply reliability to carry us through the next drought and beyond.

Rob Roscoe is general manager of the Sacramento Suburban Water District and a member of the Regional Water Authority executive committee. He can be contacted at