The five-year California drought has shown signs of letting up and the increased rainfall in the northern part of the state has alleviated some of its effects on the communities fortunate enough to be hit by the El Niño weather system, but Governor Jerry Brown is not ready to lift at least some of the water-use restrictions he implemented with his historic executive order last year.
Earlier this week, Brown announced that while some rules might be eased going forward, the state and its urban water providers must still plan for the worst case scenario, as droughts become more prevalent in the decades ahead. On Monday, Brown issued a new executive order that seeks to build off the temporary statewide emergency he proclaimed last April by banning some water uses permanently and asking water providers to create customized drought plans for the future.
"Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before," said Governor Brown. "But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”
Among the current measures that were made permanent by Brown’s executive order are the watering of hardscape, the washing of automobiles with hoses lacking a shutoff nozzle, the irrigation of medians and the watering of lawns within 48 hours of measurable precipitation.
The order also mandates that monthly reporting by local providers to the state regarding water usage, conservation figures and enforcement become a permanent fixture of the state’s attempts to save water. It also calls for providers to create “actionable” five-year drought plans that can be put into practice if the drought conditions persist and the state is faced with ongoing water shortages.
A major aim of the order is to eliminate “clearly wasteful” uses of water and is geared toward getting communities to use the water they do have more efficiently. It notes that persistent warm weather spurred by climate change has resulted in a reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains and has resulted in drier soil conditions.
According to The United States Drought Monitor, an organization that tracks precipitation and drought patterns in the country, the percentage of the state that still suffers from “extreme drought” conditions, the worst on its scale, is just over 21 percent. That number is less than half of what it was at this time last year when nearly 47 percent of the state had extreme drought conditions. Still, the State Water Resources Control (SWRC) Board Chair Felicia Marcus warned against the state dropping its guard when the agency released its conservation figures earlier this month.
“It’s not time yet for a drought’s over party. That said, March brought us much needed rain and snow—still less than average but huge compared to the worst in 500 years, which is where we were last year,” Marcus said. “We’ve gotten a bit of a reprieve, but not a hall pass. Now we are figuring out how to appropriately adjust to a better but not ideal situation.”
Overall the state was able to reduce urban water usage by 24 percent when compared with the same time period in 2013. The savings are estimated to be enough water to provide 6.5 million Californians with water for an entire year. The Long Beach Board of Water Commissioners applauded the governor’s action to extend some of these measures permanently and pushing for the state to make water conservation a facet of life for the state going forward.
“Governor Brown continues to guide the state’s water supply responsibly by directing actions aimed at using water wisely, reducing water waste, and improving water use efficiency; all of which are consistent with the Long Beach Water Department’s Water Conservation and Water Supply Shortage Plan,” President of the Board of Water Commissioners Frank Martinez said in a statement. “We need to make conservation a permanent way of life in Long Beach, as well as throughout the state.”
Long Beach was handed down an original conservation mark of 16 percent when Brown first mandated statewide water conservation goals in April 2015 but it has since been reduced to nine percent.
Under the governor’s new executive order, urban water providers could be able to help set their own conservation standards in conjunction with the SWRC and the Department of Water Resources, as the new executive order allows for the creation of goals that are “customized to fit the unique conditions of each water supplier.”
The board will meet next week to decide if that provision will be enacted.
The marks, which aren’t expected to be released until early 2017, are expected to exceed the goal of a cumulative 20 percent savings by 2020, but will also allow some wiggle room for suppliers that exist in parts of the state that aren’t as dry as other providers.
It’s unclear whether Long Beach’s conservation mark will drop any further than nine percent. Next week, the SWRCB will meet and determine if it will accept a staff recommendation to let local water suppliers have a bigger hand in determining its water conservation marks.
In the latest numbers reported to the state, Long Beach had a per-capita water consumption mark of 60.9 gallons per person per day, over five gallons less than the statewide average. Summer is on the way and that number is likely go to up, but under the current mandate, that figure has still been below the statewide average. Mayor Robert Garcia took note of the progress the city has made while joining the governor, SWRCB and the water department in pushing for conservation to continue to be in the forefront of consumers’ minds.
“I congratulate the good work of Long Beach customers who continue to lead in conservation,” Garcia said in a statement. “Last summer, residents averaged 65 gallons per capita per day. That’s compared to the state’s average of 147 gallons per capita per day during the same summer months. Conservation benefits all of us in the state and needs to be our new normal.”