Water Today, Gone Tomorrow

California has had a rollercoaster
of a water cycle this year.

Nine months ago, the state officially entered
a drought period. On February 27, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger officially
declared a state of emergency, and instructed the government to assist
citizens in the water situation at hand.

In a statement, the governor,
recognizing that despite an abundance of rain in recent days, “California
faces its third consecutive year of drought and we must prepare for
the worst — a fourth, fifth or even sixth year of drought…. Last year
we experienced the driest spring and summer on record and storage in
the state’s reservoir system is near historic lows. This drought is
having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy
and our environment — making today’s action absolutely necessary.
This is a crisis, just as severe as an earthquake or raging wildfire,
and we must treat it with the same urgency by upgrading California’s
water infrastructure to ensure a clean and reliable water supply for
our growing state.”

Using the power to declare
a state of emergency, the state’s chief executive officer ordered
every state government agency to “utilize and employ state personnel,
equipment and facilities for the performance of any and all activities
consistent with the direction of the California Emergency Management
Agency (CalEMA) and the State Emergency Plan.”

To map out the plan, 21 different
courses of action were outlined by the governor in his emergency proclamation.
Most of the directives encouraged various forms of water conservation
programs and water awareness. Some of the directives included:

  • “All urban water
    users immediately increase their water conservation activities in an
    effort to reduce their individual water use by 20 percent”
  • The statewide launch
    of a water conservation campaign, led by the California Department of
    Water Resources, which was also directed to “implement the relevant
    mitigation measures identified in the Environmental Water Account Environmental
    Impact Report” and to develop further “mitigation measures related
    to air quality impacts.”
  • The State Water
    Resources Control Board was ordered to “expedite” water-related
    transfers, while also adhering to strict environmental regulations.
  • “To the extent
    allowed by applicable law,” the governor directed state agencies to
    work to “prioritize and streamline” the processes of water conservation,
    desalination and “recycling projects that provide drought relief.”
  • A new moratorium
    will be set on “all new landscaping projects at state facilities and
    on state highways and roads except those that use water efficient irrigation,
    drought tolerant plants or non-irrigation erosion control.” [These
    same water-saving sprinkler systems are widely available for private
    and commercial use already.]Water suppliers
    within the state must have back-up pans in case they run short on water,
    in accordance with California Water Code’s section 10632.
  • The Department of
    Water Resources has also been directed to offer all kinds of assistance
    to water suppliers/districts and those working in agriculture, to help
    implement water-saving strategies to “get the greatest benefit from
    available water supplies.”
  • Joint action will
    be taken with state agencies and the Federal Drought Action Team to
    provide for drought preparedness and “response activities.”
  • Emergency exemptions,
    including the suspension of Water Code section 13247, will be analyzed
    by the Secretary for the California EPA and the Secretary of the California
    Natural Resources Agency.
  • By the end of March,
    if the situation has not changed for the better, the governor will “consider
    issuing additional orders, which may include… [the] institution of
    mandatory water rationing and mandatory reductions in water use; [the]
    reoperation of major reservoirs in the state to minimize the impacts
    of the drought; additional regulatory relief or permit streamlining
    as allowed under the Emergency Services Act and other actions necessary
    to prevent, remedy or mitigate the effects of the extreme drought conditions.”

What does this mean for the
average citizen?

On first glance, it may appear, not much.

in less than one month’s time, if there has been no visible change
in the current and precarious water situation in California, the typical
consumer may be hit directly. If drastic measures are deemed necessary,
private citizens may have to face higher water prices, and less readily
available water. That translates to paying more, and using less, of
a most vital resource.

Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District
keeps a running update on its current water reserves, which at this
point, are at less than half, or less than 2.25 million acre feet of

Last month, the California Department of Water Resources released
its own statement on the water crisis: “California is facing the most
significant water crisis in its history. After experiencing two years
of drought and the driest spring in recorded history, water reserves
are extremely low…. Many communities in the state are now reaching
the limits of their supply. Aggressive water conservation can help stretch
available supplies to meet demands. DWR is actively moving forward with
water conservation programs to enhance these programs and provide state

The Water Bank program is another government program that
was set up to purchase and stock water from outlets willing and able
to sustain such water sales, as a response to a judge’s order barring
unrestrained Southern California water purchasing from the San Joaquin
Valley and Sacramento areas. And in a recent study, the National Weather
Service found that from February through the spring month, throughout
the majority of California, droughts are expected to “persist or intensify.”
How to best combat this rising tide? Water conservation.

However, the overarching message
of the governor’s proclamation is that water conservation is the key.
The directive ordered, numerous times, for various state, federal and
local agencies to jump into water conservation, and educate others about
the need for water conservation as well. Interestingly, some of the
abovementioned strategies, including the use of water-efficient irrigation
(or weather-based irrigation controllers, as they are sometimes referred
to) and the use of drought-tolerant plants, are strategies already widely
touted by many water districts across California.

Many of the same water
districts, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
(one of the largest water providers in the state), offer many rebates
to consumers who purchase water-saving devices such as “smart” sprinkler
controllers, efficient toilets and efficient washing machines, some
of which can cover half or more of the item’s price.

Facing a budget deficit of
over $40 billion, to be “fixed” by raising billions of dollars in
taxes, the last thing Californians need is the prospect of even more
price hikes, and on water, no less.