Californians must recommit to water conservation

originally posted on October 29, 2016


Recent news items raise concerns about California’s ongoing struggle to deal with the punishing drought.

The Desert Sun’s Ian James reported this month that Coachella Valley water agencies have logged a huge drop in conservation compared to the great efforts seen during 2015 and the first half of this year.

Coachella Valley Water District customers used just 4.3 percent less water in September than they did in September 2013, the benchmark year the state has been using to measure conservation. In August, the cut was measured at 15 percent. For reference, in July CVWD reported that its customers had cut use by 28.6 percent from the 2013 baseline.

The trend seems similar at Desert Water Agency, the other large Coachella Valley provider. DWA reported an 18.5 percent cut in August, and that fell to an 8 percent cut last month.

In the past two months it looks like we’ve started to tank when it comes to saving water.

This should be alarming to everyone in the desert, but we’re not the only ones who appear to be returning to our old ways.

Statewide, urban water use was down 17.7 percent from the 2013 baseline, officials reported. Last August, when a conservation mandate was in effect, Californians reduced their consumption by 27 percent.

Though it should be a shocking wake-up call, what we’re seeing isn’t too much of a surprise.

The State Water Resources Board – following Gov. Jerry Brown’s order in the wake of a somewhat “normal” rain and snow season last winter – eased the state’s conservation rules. The board decided that local water agencies could decide what conservation efforts their customers should follow in order to guarantee supplies in case the drought continued for three more years.

All six desert-area agencies, which have long argued that our region is well-positioned to handle such shortages, quickly proclaimed that a “zero percent” conservation target was OK under the state formula.

And today we see CVWD and DWA customers – and residents across the state – are quickly falling back to usage levels they had before all of the effort was made to cut our collective thirst for the precious resource.

This is more than just disappointing. We in California, and especially in the arid Coachella Valley, must renew our efforts to cut water use in order to ensure that the Golden State can continue to thrive. The progress we’ve seen in cutting our collective use, such as replacing thirsty turf with more appropriate drought-resistant landscaping, must continue. What cannot continue indefinitely is our drawing of more water from our aquifer than is being returned.

Indeed, the state water board has warned that mandatory drought restrictions could be re-imposed if it becomes clear users have shifted back to wasteful ways and the drought continues unabated into a sixth straight year.

The other news item mentioned above was a report by the Pacific Institute that put a price on the various methods the state could use to ensure it has the water it needs in the future. For those looking to the vast, salty Pacific Ocean, the study indicates desalination is the most expensive way by far to boost our water supply.

Researchers suggested that while different communities should study all options, including desalination in coastal areas, conservation remains the most cost-effective way to increase the water that is available.

For us in the desert, conservation means taking steps like shifting to water-saving plumbing fixtures and low-use plants in an overall strategy that allows us to keep more of our water in the ground now, banking it for when we truly need it the most.

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