Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Confront drought by plugging leaks, shutting off sprinkler

For all our sakes, turn off your lawn sprinklers, take shorter showers and make sure your faucets aren’t leaking.

As if we didn’t know before, Gov. Jerry Brown made clear by his declaration on Friday that California is in a drought and that the situation is serious. It could turn worse if we don’t take it seriously.

“I’m declaring a drought emergency in the state of California because we’re facing perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago,” the governor told reporters.

Assuming Sacramento remains dry through Wednesday – and it almost certainly will – the city will experience the driest winter stretch of 45 days in its history. Folsom Reservoir is so low that a watery ghost town submerged by the lake has become visible. American River flows are at two-decade lows.

About half of California’s rainfall comes in December, January and February. There has been virtually no rain so far, and none is in the forecast, this after dry years in 2012 and 2013.

Californians know that droughts are a part of life in the Golden State. But the parched past can be thirsty prologue.

The Dust Bowl that precipitated the mass migration from Oklahoma affected California, too. There was drought here from 1928 until 1935. More recently, there was a drought from 1987 to 1992.

In the Sacramento region, water experts are urging 20 percent reductions in use. But they cannot police every home and business. Individuals need to take responsibility by curbing their water use.

As The Bee has reported, the water rationing being called for would be some of the strictest since the drought that hit the state when Brown was governor the first time, back in 1976 and 1977.

Much has changed since then. New technology can help gauge and reduce unnecessary water use in homes, industry and agriculture. Perhaps the crisis will spawn opportunity for conservation startups that have had difficulty gaining attention because of the low cost of water.

In the hours after Brown made his declaration, politicians and advocates sought to gain advantage. Opponents of fracking renewed their call for a moratorium on the process of extracting oil by using large amounts of water.

Rep. Jeff Denham, a Turlock Republican, called for more storage, a fine idea, and decried letting water wash out to the Pacific Ocean. Soon there will be calls for more dam construction.

True enough, the drought underscores the long-neglected need for reasoned solutions to California’s plumbing system.

The state must find ways to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the environment while also ensuring enough water to sustain Central Valley agriculture and Southern California cities.

For now, however, water conservation is every Californian’s obligation. Install a low-flow shower head and fix the running toilet or leaking irrigation system. None of it is difficult or particularly expensive.

We need to act together by using only the water that we need, and no more.