Editorial: It’s time Newsom ordered water cuts.


California is in its third year of a worsening drought and the situation is getting worse. After a wet and snowy December, California experienced its driest January and February on record. More than 93% of the state is currently experiencing “severe” or “extreme” drought, compared to 66% last month. according to the US Drought Monitor. Snowpack of the Sierra Nevada has fallen to 55% of normal for this time of year and Reservoirs are exhausted.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in July asked Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15% from 2020 levels, but the state only cut about 6.5%. In January, urban water consumption increased by 2.6%compared to the same month in 2020, in the wrong direction, even if the drought worsens.

It should be clear by now that the governor’s voluntary pleas aren’t working.

Water experts say California should have already imposed mandatory restrictions. But Newsom still hasn’t ordered them.

What is he waiting for?

Meteorologists forecast drier than average will persist across much of California for the next two weeks, making it increasingly likely that California will experience its driest January-February-March stretch on record. Even meager snow cover numbers are expected with an upcoming April 1 snow survey, which typically records annual highs.

Imposing conservation regulations now, just as outdoor water use begins to increase for the spring and summer, would force water utilities to impose restrictions on lawn irrigation or increase incentives for efficient equipment and facilities and drought-friendly landscaping. It would also send a clear message to Californians, who are understandably distracted by other crises and may be unaware of the severity of this drought. While this drought is as bad, if not worse, than the 2012-16 drought, it hasn’t garnered the same kind of media coverage (which it did, by the way related to reducing water consumption in residential areas).

“Unless we put in really mandatory restrictions and get these utilities to actually address this more systematically, I doubt we’re going to see tons more environmental protection,” said Newsha Ajami, a water expert and researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Past experience shows that the sooner the government takes action to save water, the better it is, Ajami said, and that could prove disastrous if this drought lasts through next winter and spring and communities run out of water.

The drought we are experiencing is California’s new reality under climate change. Global warming has fundamentally altered the hydrological cycle, as rising temperatures amplify climate extremes and amplify the state’s boom-bust swings between too much and too little rainfall.

While this drought is another environmental crisis to contend with, it is also an opportunity to make lasting changes to reflect our changing climate. To uproot thirsty and wasteful lawns and replace them with water-guzzling native landscaping, swap out and replace inefficient equipment Catch rainwater to replenish aquifers.

Under legislation passed in 2018, California regulators are working on long-term standards for Making saving water a way of life as climate change brings with it more prolonged and frequent droughts. But people must be encouraged to act now, particularly to limit outdoor irrigation, which accounts for up to half of urban consumption. Agriculture uses about 80% of all water used in California, and more needs to be done to reduce its use while also limiting groundwater pumping, which is depleting aquifers.

Alex Stack, a Newsom spokesman, declined to say whether the governor would issue a mandatory water conservation ordinance pointed to $22.5 million in new state drought measures announced earlier this month, including more than $8 million for “targeted outreach to educate Californians about water conservation measures and practices.”

It’s a little late to start preparing Water saving tips. And while a better message is clearly needed, it is not enough.

Mandates helped get California through the 2012-16 drought. It was during a dismal snow survey in April 2015 that the then Gov. Jerry Brown ordered California’s first statewide mandatory water restrictions. His policy to cut city water use by 25% put into effect a series of emergency regulations that, while sometimes controversial, were largely effective. Californian Almost met Brown’s 25% reduction order. And while state rules were lifted after the winter of 2017 brought massive storms, some of those water-saving habits lingered.

Based on what regulators have learned from that experience, this time California is better positioned to respond. They know what works, where they can be flexible, and they have more data to adjust their rules and make them as targeted and effective as possible.

Last year, Newsom may have been reluctant to order unpopular curbs on the water because he faced a September recall election. Sticking with this “hands-off” approach this year could stem from a desire to get Californians first after two years of COVID-19 restrictions and at a moment when inflation, high gas prices and war in Ukraine Stand by not burdening the mind with another government mandate than the drought. That’s understandable, but Newsom and California gain nothing if they don’t act aggressively to conserve water now.

Conditions have deteriorated significantly in the five months since Newsom’s statement a nationwide drought emergency. It’s time for him to take the next step and impose mandatory water restrictions. Editorial: It’s time Newsom ordered water cuts.

Caroline Bleakley

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