Amid drought, Southern California lags behind in water conservation
Despite a call from Governor Gavin Newsom for all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, Southern California has fallen behind in conservation efforts and has even increased water use slightly in Los Angeles and in San Diego, according to recently released data.
More than two months after Newsom stood near a depleted reservoir in San Luis Obispo County to make his advocacy, figures released Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board show that conservation efforts have varied considerably from the north. South.
On average, Californians reduced their water use by just 1.8% statewide in July compared to the same month last year. In Southern California, however, water use has hardly changed among the region’s 19.7 million people.
According to the new data, water use in much of Southern California fell only 0.1% overall and increased 0.7% in Los Angeles and 1.3% in San Diego.
These figures contrasted sharply with the northern regions, where the effects of the drought were more severe. Water suppliers in the North Coast region reported a 16.7% drop in water use, while water use in the Bay Area fell 8.4%.
Areas that met the governor’s conservation target included Mendocino and Sonoma counties – areas that Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth described as “drought target from the start.” “.
“We’re going to need all Californians to keep, and keep a lot more,” Nemeth said.
Newsom called for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use on July 8.
State water officials have tracked monthly data from more than 400 water providers statewide, including most cities, towns and watershed districts in California. The July statistics included data reported by 378 of these water providers.
The state water board will present the data each month as the drought persists, as it did during the last major drought from 2012 to 2016, when the state imposed mandatory conservation measures.
Water officials say they are putting more emphasis on the need to conserve water as California faces a year of unprecedented heat and extremely dry conditions that have caused some reservoir levels to plummet at record levels. Nemeth said all parts of the state need to do more to conserve water, including southern California.
“We want to see LA in this voluntary 15% water savings level,” Nemeth said. “We think it’s doable.
Monthly water consumption is usually highest during the hot summer months, when plants in gardens take in more water and evaporation increases. This July was significantly warmer than last July in Los Angeles, which the city’s Department of Water and Electricity cited as one of the factors pushing water use up. . The ministry has activated a water shortage contingency plan and says it has stepped up a conservation program to encourage customers to cut spending.
E. Joaquin Esquivel, president of the National Water Board, said he looks forward to seeing what the numbers show in August.
“Looking at the latest drought, it takes time for conservation to start,” Esquivel said. “We’re going to have to keep digging deeper. “
Water board member Laurel Firestone said it was just time for everyone to do their part.
“And that means now,” Firestone said. “Treating this like the crisis that it is requires all of us to go way beyond what we see in this month’s report.”
Some of the hard-hit water providers in the North Coast region have adopted mandatory water restrictions and other measures to reduce their water footprint.
“They didn’t have any rainfall up there and they moved pretty quickly,” Nemeth said of the northern counties. “And we’re thrilled with that, and we’re thrilled that it has been done locally. “
Californians drastically reduced their water use during the drought of 2012-2016, when the government of the day. Jerry Brown imposed a mandatory 25% reduction in urban water use. Many conservation habits have remained since then. Statewide, per capita water use fell 16% between 2013 and 2020, according to state water officials.
“During the last drought, we saw an incredible response from Californians,” Esquivel said. “This will be the continued spirit that we will need in the months to come.”
The extreme drought has left California’s large reservoirs, from Lake Oroville to Lake Folsom, at some of their lowest levels on record.
The snowpack in the northern Sierra Nevada, which feeds the state’s reservoirs, peaked at 72% of average in April, then quickly melted during the hottest spring on record. The extreme heat cooked much of the West and left parched soils, which absorbed some of the runoff and left well below average flows in the state’s rivers.
“What has happened this year is really that climate change is here and our models unfortunately don’t best capture the scenarios and circumstances we find ourselves in,” Esquivel said. He said the dire water situation has necessitated changes in the way state officials plan water supply.
This year, cities and water districts got just 5% of their total water allocations from the State Water Project, which supplies water with pumps and canals from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south of California. Next year, water district managers predict that these allocations could be reduced to zero.
Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to cities and small districts, declared a water supply alert in August and urged people to conserve it.
The MWD stores water in reservoirs provided by the State Water Project, and it also relies on water from the Colorado River. Federal water managers have declared a first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River, and if water levels continue to fall as expected, those shortages could begin to reduce the amount of water flowing south of California over the next several years.
For now, Colorado River water accounts for more than half of Metropolitan’s water supply, and the district stores the State Water Project’s water in reservoirs that remain at higher levels than the severely depleted reservoirs of the Metropolitan. northern California.
“We want to give river basin districts the opportunity to work with their clients to do this on a voluntary basis,” said Nemeth. “We want these local councils to be able, if they have to pass to the obligation [water restrictions], to do it at the local level.
She noted that the state has started re-launching a drought-free campaign called Save Our Water, offering information on how people can conserve, including steps such as replacing thirsty lawns with plants that are tolerant of the water. drought. The MWD and other water providers are also offering discounts to help homeowners with the costs of removing grass and installing plants that use less water.
The National Water Board tracks monthly water usage in towns and villages, while managing agricultural water deliveries differently. This summer, the council issued an emergency ordinance prohibiting thousands of water rights holders, including farmers and other landowners, from diverting water from the delta.
Esquivel said the statewide 15% goal is “to help all Californians really connect to work.”
“What he has the power to do, and we’ve seen what he’s done before, is really to bring Californians together and help them understand,” he said, “how to improve and contribute to the long-term resilience of our systems “.
Esquivel said everyone needs to continue to focus on using less water because science shows that as the world continues to heat up with the burning of fossil fuels, droughts are becoming increasingly common. more intense in the West.
“Climate change is not going anywhere. Droughts are definitely not going anywhere, ”Esquivel said. “And we know they’re going to deepen.”
Scientists who are part of a federal drought task force said in a new report released Tuesday that the historic drought in the southwest in 2020 and 2021 is the most severe and widespread on record, and that it has been “made more impactful by human-induced warming.” “Precipitation since January 2020 has been the lowest on record since at least 1895, while temperatures reached the third highest 20-month average on record.
“This exceptional drought punctuates a two-decade period of persistent hot and dry conditions across the region,” the scientists wrote in the report, which was released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The warm temperatures that have helped make this drought so intense and widespread will continue (and increase) until rigorous climate mitigation measures are continued and regional warming trends are reversed. “
The authors wrote that rising temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions “will make even random seasons of average to below average rainfall a potential trigger for drought and will intensify droughts.” They said these “man-made increases in drought risk will continue to impose huge costs” on about 60 million people in six states, and this will require major efforts to adapt to a larger southwest. laughed at.
Justin Mankin, senior author and assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College, said the task force’s findings underscore the importance of preparing for more frequent and intense droughts like this one.
“It also highlights the costly risks of continuing to emit greenhouse gases at current levels,” Mankin said.