Drought Highlights the Need to Conserve Water and Improve Local Water Supplies

SAN FRANCISCO (January 17, 2014) – Governor Jerry Brown today proclaimed a State of Emergency in California and called for water conservation statewide, directing state officials to prepare and manage water for these drought conditions. The declaration comes after the driest calendar year in California’s recorded history, during one of the driest winters on record in the state and what is shaping to be three consecutive dry years.

Kate Poole, director of NRDC’s Water and Wildlife team and litigation director of the Water Program, issued the following statement:

“Drought impacts all of us – from cities to farms to vulnerable native fisheries and other wildlife. We all depend on water to survive and thrive. Agriculture consumes 80% of California’s water supplies and we all need to do our part. We welcome the Governor’s call to action to conserve water this year, and the drought is a reminder that proven solutions such as urban rainwater and stormwater harvesting, better groundwater management, and water conservation, recycling and efficiency can go a long way to maintain healthy rivers, support fisheries and provide reliable water even in times of drought for cities and farms. By investing in these tools and developing local water supplies, California can improve local reliance, healthy rivers and robust fisheries at the same time and at an affordable cost.”

Here’s what California should and should not do to help the state weather this and future droughts:

  1. Conservation and Reduced Reliance on the Delta Work

Despite the exceptionally dry conditions, vast regions of California have no plans to impose water rationing or other mandatory conservation measures this year. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, serving close to 19 million people, announced that it has enough water to serve its customers this year without requiring cutbacks in use, despite receiving only a 5% initial allocation from the State Water Project (its primary source of water imported from northern California). Similarly, the Contra Costa Water District in northern California does not expect to ration water to its Bay Area customers this year, despite warnings of very low allocations from the Central Valley Project, a key Contra Costa supplier from the Delta. 

These water agencies planned ahead – knowing that droughts are a regular and predictable occurrence in California, likely to increase in frequency and duration in a climate changed future – and invested in sensible, local water supply measures that allowed them to reduce their dependence on fickle water supplies from the Delta. Other water agencies should make similar investments to reduce reliance on the imperiled Delta. 

  1. Don’t Do Additional Harm to Birds, Fish and Wildlife That Are Already Suffering

Our prized salmon and other native fish and wildlife also suffer in periods of drought, in part because existing water quality standards and other fishery protections are much weaker in dry years. Already, sizeable numbers of chinook salmon eggs have been dried up in the Sacramento and American Rivers due to lack of sufficient flows, and wildfowl are finding that refuges along the Pacific flyway are dry, depriving them of food and creating conditions ripe for overcrowding and disease. We should not further imperil their already shaky existence by depriving fish and wildlife of the minimal water and flows that are called for by our water quality standards, endangered species protections, and other measures designed to protect the public trust.   

  1. Take Charge of Your Own Water Use

Even if your water district isn’t calling for mandatory water use restrictions, learn about where your water comes from and think about what you can do to reduce your water footprint. Enter your zip code here and find out more about your water supply and whether your water agency is taking steps to secure a reliable water future by investing in sustainable water supplies. If it’s not, urge your elected representatives to do more to care for this precious resource. And see here how you can conserve water at home.