A State of Conservation: Making Drought Measures Permanent


The drought is far from over. Nearly 90% of the state of California “remains in moderate drought or worse,” despite extra precipitation in northern California this winter, says the Associated Press. And according to California’s policymakers, it’s time for the state to transition from short-term emergency measures to a permanent water conservation plan. What impact will this mandate have on you?

On May 9, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that obliges citizens and water suppliers to make water conservation a way of life. The mandate requires state water agencies to update emergency water restrictions and make them long-term.

The executive order encourages the Department of Water Resources to work with the State Water Resources Control Board to develop new conservation targets for urban water agencies. These targets will be customized to each agency and will recognize the differences in water conditions and need in various parts of the state. Urban water suppliers will also be required to report data on water use, conservation, and enforcement.

Specific restrictions include wasteful practices like hosing off sidewalks, using non-recirculated water in fountains, watering lawns within 48 hours of precipitation, or irrigating ornamental turf on street medians. Water suppliers are obligated to accelerate data collection, improve water system management, and prioritize capital projects to reduce leaks and waste.

Retail water suppliers across the state have expressed concern that this year’s precipitation and snowpack are healthy enough to alleviate drought efforts for certain parts of California, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. The mandate’s regional approach to conservation reflects a shifted perspective in that it allows each water district to develop its own conservation plans, based on what its water supplies would be if the drought continued for three more years.

Max Gomberg, conservation manager for the State Water Resources Control Board compared this method to a kind of “stress test. If [water districts] wouldn’t be able to meet demand in 2019, then they would be required to institute additional conservation actions.”

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” Governor Brown said in a statement. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life,” continued Brown.

But according to an economic analysis commissioned by the State Water Resources Control Board, cutting urban water use will also come at a price. The Los Angeles Times reports that it could potentially cost the state $1 billion to $1.3 billion, including $500 million to $600 million in lost revenue for water suppliers. How will these new rules affect you? WE_bug_web

  • Jonathan McClelland.

    I believe in using water as wisely as possible for all applications. When will our legislators address the fact that 80% of the water used in Ca. for human purposes is used by agriculture, and much of that is done without regard for climate appropriate crops and without using readily available best irrigation practices? We may yet see pigs fly before our elected officials step up to the plate to address the largest piece of sustainable water policy. It used to puzzle me why they don’t act, but ” I’m older than that now” to quote a song from the 60’s. Who funds the legislative process? Those who get the most funds from the process.

    • Laura S.

      Thank you very much for sharing your perspective, Jonathan. You’ve spoken to a fundamental issue: funding. Does anyone else have insight to share on this topic?


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