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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

How California Plans To Make Water Conservation a 'Way of Life'


California is in the midst of its sixth straight year of drought, so conserving water must become a daily practice for Golden State residents. Enter the state’s draft plan to make water conservation a "way of life." Put forth at the behest of Gov. Jerry Brown, the plan aims to achieve long-term efficient water use and meet drought preparedness goals.

The plan builds on the executive order Gov. Brown issued last May that requires the state to do several key things, including use water more wisely. It “represents a shift from statewide mandates to a set of conservation standards applied based on local circumstances, including population, temperature, leaks, and types of commercial and industrial use,” wrote the state agencies behind the framework. 

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the State Water Board will now require urban water suppliers to report monthly on water use, conservation and enforcement. Both the DWR and State Water Board will develop new water-efficiency targets as a framework for urban water agencies. The targets will be customized to fit the conditions of each urban water supplier.

The executive order also required the following:

Eliminate water waste. Wasteful practices like hosing off sidewalks and driveways, washing cars with hoses lacking a shut-off nozzle, and watering lawns in a way that causes run-off will be permanently prohibited. Those practices have been temporarily prohibited since emergency water conservation efforts began in July 2014.

For its part, the State Water Board and the DWR will take actions to minimize water system leaks across the state which continue to waste large amounts of water. Over 700,000 acre-feet of water a year are estimated to be lost due to leaks. That is enough water to supply 1.4 million homes for a year.

Strengthen local drought resilience. The DWR will strengthen the standards for local water shortage contingency plans, which are part of the management plans that water districts are required to submit every five years. Districts will plan for droughts lasting at least five years, plus more frequent and severe periods of drought under the new, strengthened standards.

Improve agricultural water efficiency and drought planning. The existing requirements for agricultural water management plans will be updated so irrigation districts are able to quantify their customers’ water use and plan for water supply shortages. Under current law, agricultural water districts serving 25,000 acres or more are required to file water management plans, but the executive order requires irrigation districts serving 10,000 acres or more to file plans as well.

The water reductions Californians achieved during drought must continue

Californians have greatly reduced water use since Gov. Brown issued mandatory statewide water restrictions in April 2015.

The state cumulatively cut water use by 22.6 percent from June 2015 to November of last year, compared with the same months in 2013. That totals 2.35 million acre-feet of water, enough to supply over 11 million people -- or over a quarter of the state’s population -- for a year. Despite the lifting of the mandatory water restrictions last May, some water suppliers actually saw increased conservation levels.

Although California received more rainfall last year, snowpack levels are still low. The DWR’s snow survey at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada range found a snow-water equivalence of six inches, which is 5.3 inches less than the average for early January. Electronic readings from 105 stations throughout the Sierra Nevada found that the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack is 7.2 inches, which is only 68 percent of the multi-decade average for this time of the year. The readings for central and southern Sierra are 65 percent and 73 percent of average, respectively. Statewide snowpack was 30 percent below average as of Jan. 3.

The current snowpack conditions might just become routine because of climate change, a new study by UCLA researchers found. The study predicted that during April snow-covered areas could be reduced by 48 percent by the end of the century, making the state’s plans to make water conservation a way of life that much more important.

Image credit: Flickr/Eric Norris

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.

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