Mandatory limits on water use are likely to be imposed in the near future on California residents, businesses and farms. Get ready. You can’t change the weather, which has deprived the state of its necessary rain and snowfall. But you can change your response.
After examining the state’s shockingly low reservoirs, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters recently that a statewide limit on water use may be needed to head off a supply crisis caused by California’s historic drought, which continues to worsen.
On July 8, Newsom asked Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 15 percent. But water savings have not been realized and mandatory cutbacks will likely be necessary. Newsom told reporters that conditions on Oct. 1, the start of California’s water season, will determine the need.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown mandated water cutbacks during the last drought from 2012 to 2016. Brown issued a statewide order requiring communities to reduce water use 25 percent after voluntary efforts failed.
The drought has returned with a vengeance. California now is in its second consecutive year of its worst drought in nearly 50 years. Already Newsom has declared 88 percent of the state to be in “extreme drought.” Soon that declaration will include the entire state.
This year is California’s third driest year in more than 100 years of recording the state’s precipitation. Last year was the ninth driest on record.
But it’s just not California. The entire West is experiencing a drought made worse by high temperatures. This month, the federal government declared a first-ever shortage on the Colorado River and mandated water cutbacks next year for Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico, which receives drinking and irrigation supplies from the Colorado River.
The federal declaration came after Lake Mead, which stores river water behind Hoover Dam, near Las Vegas, sank to only 35 percent of full capacity. Upstream, Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir, behind Lake Mead, is only 32 percent full. Straddling the Arizona-Utah border, Lake Powell holds Colorado River water behind Glen Canyon Dam.
A day after the federal declaration, the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which receives Colorado River water, declared a “water supply alert” and asked customers to voluntarily conserve.
“This is a wake-up call for what lies ahead,” said Deven Upadhyay, chief operating officer of the district that serves 19 million Californians. “We cannot overstate the seriousness of this drought.”
This month, Lake Oroville in Butte County, the largest state-owned reservoir in California, was only 23 percent full. It’s the lowest level since 1969, when the dam was built. The reservoir’s hydroelectric plant operator shut down power production because there is not enough water to spin the turbines.
Reservoirs throughout the state have shockingly low levels, including Lake Shasta, Folsom and San Luis, which are 29 percent, 23 percent and 16 perfect full, respectively.
In addition to the impact this is having on rural households and community wells that depend on ground water, small and large cities are struggling with shortages. The San Jose area is being especially hard-hit and residents are being told to cut water use by 30 percent.
A statewide order mandating water cutbacks likely will require limits on watering laws, and reductions in water allotments for homes and businesses. Noncompliance could result in fines and higher water rates.
As water supplies continue to decrease, competition between cities and rural communities, businesses and farms, and environmentalists and landowners will intensify. The complex and centuries-old feuding over water will rage. Public policies will collapse under the weight.
And Californians — people who just want to do simple things, like turning on their taps to get a drink of water and flushing their toilets — will sit on the sidelines in frustration, paying higher water bills.
But Californians have some control — at least over how this drought will impact them personally. And that control is to take steps to get the most use out of the least amount of water. Conserve.