As a dry summer looms, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered water suppliers across California to step up their local drought responses, but failed to demand water rationing. water or set a statewide conservation goal.
Despite pressure from experts for a strong mandate, the ordinance leaves the exact conservation measures to city water providers and major water wholesalers who supply the vast majority of Californians. It does not affect agricultural water suppliers or small water systems which are particularly vulnerable to drought.
Newsom also ordered state water regulators to consider banning irrigation of decorative lawns at businesses and other institutions.
California water watchers said the order was not enough.
“I would have liked to see a more directed statewide mandate that would have considered regional levels of per capita water use,” said Newsha Ajami, research strategy manager at the Lawrence. Berkeley National Laboratory. “However, I am happy to see that he is undertaking efforts to limit outdoor water use and ban non-functional turf.”
Water Systems, however, applauded Newsom for leaving water conservation to local agencies.
“The Governor’s Order today recognizes the diversity of California communities and their water supply conditions,” Jennifer Pierre, executive director of the State Water Contractors Association of Public Water Agencies, said in a statement. . “Directing agencies to exercise their specific plans strikes this important balance between statewide needs and local action.”
Under the ordinance, which will require emergency regulations due to come into force in mid-June, local water suppliers must act as if their water supplies have dropped by at least 10-20%.
Each agency has specified what actions this degree of reduction – called phase two water shortage – will trigger in its water shortage contingency plans. This could include reducing the number of days outdoor irrigation is permitted.
“That’s what we’re aiming for: for everyone to have a clear message about the need to conserve, but locally adapted based on the experiences of these vendors,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California’s Environmental Protection Secretary.
Already, 41% of 385 water suppliers have reached or exceeded that level of scarcity, administration officials said.
This includes San Jose Water, which supplies thousands of customers in the heart of Silicon Valley. In the event of a stage two water shortage, this would reduce irrigation to three days per week – but it has already reached stage three and reduced customers to two days of outdoor watering per week.
“Our current restrictions are already more restrictive than what the governor has announced,” said Liann Walborsky, San Jose Water’s director of corporate communications.
State officials count 55 water providers — or about 14% of water systems reporting conservation efforts in the state — that have not yet activated their contingency plans in the event of water shortage.
Many are in Southern California, according to state data, including the Yorba Linda Water District in Orange County. Scaling up local conservation to the level demanded by Newsom will require increased customer awareness and education, expanded rebate programs and a requirement for customers to quickly repair leaks. It does not include mandatory conservation measures.
“A conservation mandate should come from the state. Then (Yorba Linda Water District) would adopt the level of the plan that corresponds to the mandate,” said Alison Martin, public affairs officer for the water district – who noted it’s raining right now. at Yorba Linda.
Many residents, especially in cities and towns, seem to be ignoring calls from the state to take the drought seriously and reduce it: In January, Californians used nearly 3% more water throughout state in relation to the declaration of a drought emergency.
Overall, from July to January, Californians reduced by less than 7% statewide compared to 2020, according to state data.
The increase came in the second driest January on record, despite Newsom’s call in July for Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%.
In recent weeks, administration officials have made appearances across the state, livestreaming the same demand against the backdrop of drought-tolerant landscaping: urging Californians to conserve water as another dry summer is coming.
The tour appears to have laid the groundwork for a water conservation mandate, but one much more complicated than the mandate former Governor Jerry Brown issued during the last drought, which called on water providers to reduce by 25% on average across the state.
“I think a mandate that identifies a reduction target is an easier message for people to understand,” said Heather Cooley, research director at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank.
Still, she said, there are benefits to tying Newsom’s conservation order to water providers’ existing plans to deal with dry spells: “They should be able to start immediately.”
The news follows the driest January and February on record. Historically dry conditions prompted California water regulators to cut state waterworks deliveries to 5% of requested supplies from 15%.
Although the rain and snow quenches the desiccated state Sunday and Monday, a severe drought nevertheless continues to grip most of California. In the San Joaquin Valley, the North Coast and the deserts of southeastern California, extreme drought remains entrenched.
As of last week, reservoir storage had fallen to just 69% of the statewide average, and the diminishing snowpack leaves little hope of filling them substantially over the coming dry months.
Newsom’s order is more nuanced than the statewide conservation mandate that former Gov. Jerry Brown issued at the height of the last drought in 2015.
Under Brown’s tenure, water providers were required to conserve 25% statewide, with each given a specific conservation goal based on its existing use. Those who failed to retain enough faced escalating consequences that could include fines.
This time, Newsom took a more localized approach, instead ordering water suppliers to activate stage two of their contingency plans in the event of a water shortage.
City water providers are required to submit these plans for drought and other water shortages every five years, and they specify how water systems will respond when their supplies dwindle.
Water supply systems scale up their planned responses in six stages, depending on the severity of water scarcity. A stage one shortage reflects a 10% impact on the system’s water supply and could trigger a range of actions, including calls for voluntary conservation. A stage six shortage reflects a catastrophic 50% reduction in system supply and could trigger requirements to halve water use, including a ban on landscape irrigation.
Felicia Marcus, former chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, called the step a welcome one, but “the least we can do…We need to accelerate all of this and change the expectation that this is a short time. term to get I hope the water board and other agencies think big (as opposed to) tinker at the margins.