5 years and counting

Now into the 5th year of a deep drought, California’s May 2016 suspension of urban water restrictions strains credulity. Given that El Niño did not materialize, climate change is unabated, and old habits die hard, reversing the course set only one year earlier seems premature.

April 2015’s statewide mandatory reductions (coupled with surcharges, penalties, and shaming) changed behaviors. Forced to act, Californians cut potable water use 24% from 2013 levels. Flush with that success, recent rains that partially filled northern reservoirs, and intense lobbying, the State will now leave it to 411 local water agencies to each set guidelines based on their own supply projections.

Climate zones, demand, and sourcing vary dramatically across California’s 163,000 square miles, so this abrupt U-turn optimizes at the local level irrespective of the bigger picture. And that picture, as Governor Brown reiterated the week before this change, is bleak:

  1. Prevalence of drought conditions: 50% of California remains in extreme or exceptional drought, and another 40% in moderate drought. (U.S. Drought Monitor)
  2. Long-term drought indicators: Significant (California Weather Blog)
  3. Likelihood of La Niña that reduces rainfall next year: 70% (Climate Prediction Center)
  4. Chances of continued water supply issues due to a warming climate: High (Henry Fountain, Times science writer)
  5. Probability that wasteful practices return: High. One community in fact just decreed fines for homeowners who fail to maintain lush lawns!

Water is a shared resource. Its usage should eclipse a single regional wet winter, local supply, regional zip code wealth, and archaic paradigms.