News

Drought: New battle, old weapons

The dry bed of Ivanpah Lake in San Barnardino County, which had been filled by the 2004-05 rains. (Photo: Ed Berlen)

With four-fifths of California suffering through extreme drought, the state is poised to impose conservation measures last seen nearly 40 years ago during an earlier, unprecedented parched period.

There will be restrictions on lawn watering, car and pavement washing, runoff, fountains and the like, with violations of up to $500 a day. Dozens of local California water districts already have mandatory water-saving measures in effect, but the state’s rules would be mandatory statewide, enforced by local agencies – including police and sheriff’s deputies – with the authority to write up violators.

As of July 7, at least 58 local water agencies have implemented some form of mandatory restrictions or mandatory conservation, while at least 153 are calling for voluntary increased conservation in response to the drought

“All Californians will be affected by ongoing drought conditions in one form or another,” the State Water Resources Control Board said in announcing the proposed measures. The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday to decide whether to order the new rules. The measures, if approved, likely would go into effect in August. Many communities already are conserving, the board noted, “but it’s clear that more can be done.”

As of July 7, at least 58 local water agencies have implemented some form of mandatory restrictions or mandatory conservation, while at least 153 are calling for voluntary increased conservation in response to the drought and Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for all Californians to reduce water use, the Association of California Water Agencies reported. The group represents about 450 members.

“A majority of those agencies have asked customers to cut back irrigation to two or three days a week, in the evening or early morning; use a broom instead of a hose to clean paved surfaces; use automatic shut-off nozzles on hoses; use a bucket to wash vehicles or patronize car washes that use recycled water. Indoor conservation measures include asking customers to install low-flow washers, toilets and showerheads; fixing leaks; taking shorter showers; not running the water while brushing teeth or shaving; and washing full loads of dishes and clothes,” ACWA spokeswoman Lisa Lien-Mager wrote in an email.

Gov. Brown in January asked for voluntary conservation of 20 percent, but people have fallen far short of that figure, conserving perhaps 5 percent compared with the year before.

An ACWA survey last month showed that about 80 percent of have water-shortage or drought-contingency plans in place. Water rationing already “has gone into effect in several locations, including the City of Santa Cruz, Brooktrails Township, Cambria Community Services District, Lompico County Water District, Redwood Valley County Water District, and the City of Avalon,” Lien-Mager noted.

Gov. Brown in January asked for voluntary conservation of 20 percent, but people have fallen far short of that figure, conserving perhaps 5 percent compared with the year before.

Brown is no stranger to droughts: He was governor during the historic dry spell of 1976-77, when mandatory rationing was ordered. That drought ended dramatically: Torrential rains buffeted the state from January through March 1978, and a third dry year was averted. The drought of 1928-1934 included at least one year of near-normal rainfall.

In the current drought, a third dry year has not been averted. But even if substantial rains come this fall and winter, people should be cautious.

“Droughts do not occur in precise historical sequence or in equal severity,” the state noted in a voluminous after-action report on the 1976-77 drought.

 


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