California calls for more local water conservation
Californians are being urged to further reduce their water use, state officials said Monday as they warned that water shortages will shape the drought-hit state’s future.
But those cuts would come from cities and local water districts, not the state, with members of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration saying the best approach in a state of nearly 40 million people and varying water needs is to allow local retailers to meet the protection needs to set.
“We live in a state that has many different hydrological zones and many different water use scenarios, and a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t really work in California,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Blumenfeld spoke to reporters after Newsom, a Democrat, issued an executive order outlining new measures to reduce water use after a historically dry January through March. The governor has previously urged all Californians to reduce their water use by 15% compared to 2020, but it’s not a mandate and so far the overall savings are 6%.
Like much of the western United States, California experiences severe or extreme droughts over most of its land. Although it rained on both ends of the state on Monday, state officials offered a sobering assessment of the state’s water picture.
“How we protect this precious resource needs to be burned into everything we do,” said Blumenfeld. “Our life here in California is going to be really defined by water scarcity in the future.”
Some 385 cities and other local water districts are required to submit drought response plans to the state, detailing six levels of water scarcity-based mitigation. When less water is available, local water districts implement more aggressive controls on how and when people can use water. These suppliers serve more than 36 million people, or more than 90% of the state’s residents.
Newsom’s executive order directs the State Water Resources Control Board to consider requiring these local suppliers to move to the second step of their conservation plans, which assumes a 20% water scarcity. About 140 cities and retailers are already working at this level.
Tier two restrictions vary based on the needs of the local county, but usually limit when people can use water for outdoor purposes or include incentives for people to install more efficient appliances or landscapes. In Sacramento, for example, Stage Two restricts watering of public spaces like parks and cemeteries, orders people to turn off decorative water features like fountains, and increases water patrols. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy would restrict outdoor irrigation, increase coverage for heavy water users, and provide more discounts and incentives for water conservation.
“As important as conservation is to conserving our precious water supplies, we must emphasize that conservation cannot be our sole response to the ‘boom and bust’ water cycles that are exacerbating with climate change,” said Jim Peifer of the Regional Water Authority, to organization representing 20 water utilities in the Sacramento area, in a statement.
He said the state needs to modernize its water system, including by storing more supplies in underground water banks.
Newsom’s executive order also requires the state water agency to consider a ban on watering grass used solely for ornamental purposes, such as grass on highway medians or in office parking lots. Green spaces such as baseball fields or parks would likely not be affected. Banning irrigation of such grass could save an amount of water annually equivalent to what is used by more than half a million homes, Newsom’s office said in a release.
The state water agency has until May 25 to review the measures Newsom outlined.
In addition to limiting outdoor irrigation and urging more conservation, the regulation establishes permitting rules for new wells to ensure they don’t overwater the groundwater people depend on for drinking. It also simplifies the procedures for approving projects to recharge aquifers and protect drought-prone fish and wildlife, including salmon. And he has ordered the state water agency to step up inspections aimed at uncovering illegal water diversions.
In years without drought, groundwater accounts for about a third of the state’s water supply. But during droughts, when less water is available from mountain snowpack and state reservoirs, the state turns to groundwater for about two-thirds of its supply, said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency.