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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Why California Must Continue To Conserve Water


California Gov. Jerry Brown issued mandatory statewide water reductions of 25 percent in 2015. The reason is simple: The entire state was in a drought. This summer, Brown lifted the mandatory reductions due to the abundance of rain the state received last winter and spring. El Nino weather patterns caused the above-normal rainfall.

But most of California, save a small area in the north that is classified as “abnormally dry,” is still suffering drought. A swath of the middle of the state is in the worst category, “exceptional drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It's highly likely that drought will continue next year as what follows El Nino is La Nina, which will “exacerbate drought conditions across the Southwest,” Accuweather reported. Central and Southern California could face the brunt of La Nina which could include “below-normal snowpack in the southern Sierra Nevada.”

“I would be concerned about the drought continuing,” Dave Pierce, who does El Niño and La Niña forecasts at the Climate Research Division of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, told the Orange County Register.

“Even if the El Niño had brought us normal rain, or even twice as much rain as we normally get, it’s still a cumulative effect; the dead stuff is still dead,” Gordon Martin, the fire management officer at the Trabuco Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest, told the paper. “To get out of four years of drought, it takes four years of above-normal rainfall,” Martin said. “We didn’t get that.”

Californians didn’t quite meet the state’s mandatory 25 percent water reduction. From June 2015 to February 2016, statewide cumulative water savings totaled 23.9 percent. But Californians conserved almost 1.19 million acre-feet of water, enough water to supply 5.9 million Californians for an entire year. That many people is equivalent to the combined population of San Diego, Riverside and Tulare counties, or 15 percent of the state’s population.

Although Californians fell short of the mandated 25 percent reduction, they still conserved quite a bit of water. As State Water Resources Control Board chair, Felicia Marcus, said: “Californians rose to the occasion, reducing irrigation, fixing leaks, taking shorter showers, and saving our precious water resources in all sorts of ways.”

“Conservation should be the California way of life," Marcus said. And she is absolutely correct. This is a state that will suffer periodically from drought, given that climate change increases the likelihood and severity of drought. Climate change, or the warming of temperatures that it causes, accounted for 8 to 27 percent of the state’s drought in 2012 to 2014, according to a study published last year. In other words, climate change contributed to California's drought.

In addition to conserving something we all need to live, water conservation measures translate into electricity savings. The water conservation rate Californians achieved from June 2015 to February 2016 yielded electricity savings of 922,543 megawatt hours, which can power 135,000 homes for an entire year, according to research from the University of California, Davis. The water conservation rate also led to greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 219,653 metric tons, equivalent to removing 50,000 cars from the road for a year. So, water conservation is something that is all-around good for the environment.

And water conservation is something that needs to be a permanent reality in California. As the Los Angeles Times editorial board put it, “ If the drought emergency is over, it’s only because drought is no longer an emergency, but a permanent reality.” That permanent reality needs to make all Californians extra conscious of water and the need to conserve every drop they can. Or as the board advises, “Water agencies and their customers would be wise to be ever more respectful of water and ever more parsimonious in their use of it.”

Image credit: Flickr/Aqua Mechanical

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman