Making Water Conservation a Way of Life in California

Tomato crops that receive underground micro irrigation on the Joe Muller and Sons farm in Woodland, California
Credit: Phil Hogan/USDA

The top action item in California's Water Action Plan is to "make conservation a way of life." In order to accomplish this, we cannot allow ourselves and the public to experience the short-term memory that often follows a multi-year drought; instead we must build upon the conservation and efficiency savings we have achieved during this unprecedented drought. Adopting a suite of strong permanent conservation measures is the most effective way to fulfill our ongoing obligation to conserve water resources.

Today's Executive Order from California Governor Jerry Brown does just that. It lays out a framework for water suppliers to make conservation a permanent reality and ensures Californians continue to use this precious resource efficiently regardless of supply conditions.

The Executive Order focuses on four important areas:

  1. Use Water More Wisely by making permanent prohibitions of wasteful practices and continued reporting of water demands.
  2. Eliminate Water Waste by focusing on leaks in our water distribution systems, irrigation systems, homes and businesses.
  3. Strengthen Local Drought Resilience by requiring water suppliers to set targets based on local land uses and associated demands and having consistent planning guidelines for extended water shortages.
  4. Improve Agricultural Water Use Efficiency and Drought Planning by broadening the number of suppliers that must submit the agricultural water management plans and expanding reporting requirements, particularly planning for periods of extended water shortages.

Californians have done an incredible job reducing water demand during this unprecedented drought emergency, but we know that state-wide savings targets were more challenging for some communities to achieve than for others. The Executive Order announced today addresses some of the fairness and equity issues raised during the emergency regulation by: 1) prioritizing the elimination of water waste, 2) focusing on reasonable and efficient water use based on local conditions rather than allocating reductions based on per capita use, and 3) addressing agricultural water use efficiency, which was not effectively addressed in any of the emergency regulations.

Even in normal years, California operates from a severe water deficit—with business as usual, we simply don't have enough water to supply all the competing demands of cities, farms and business, while maintaining essential flows into the San Francisco Bay-Delta and other the rivers and waterways essential to our water supply. In dry years—like the ones we're currently experiencingthis deficit becomes more apparent.

After this winter's disappointing El Niño and projections for La Niña next winter which could mean a return to dry conditions, it's become clear that this drought isn't going anywhere. And the reality of climate change is that hotter, drier weather will become the new normal in the West. It's essential that California implement permanent regulations that build on the conservation we've achieved during this unprecedented drought and prepare our state for that new reality and we are relieved to see that Gov. Brown is continuing to make water sustainability and drought resilience a priority for our state going forward. 

Most Californians did a great job saving water under the temporary water restrictions set forth by Gov. Brown and the State Water Resources Control Board. Now it's time to make those behavior changes our new normal. 

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