News

Drought: El Niño is not the cavalry

Storm clouds over Mt. Baldy, east of Los Angeles. (Photo: Joel Shawn)

 

(Ed’s Note: The following is the first in a series of several articles on California water issues from experts convened by the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy).

The drought has reminded us of how truly adaptable Californians are and must continue to be. Even if this El Niño brings California an unusually wet winter, continuing to invest in science-based drought-related policy is essential to California’s continued success as a global innovation economy, a leader in environmental and public health, and being a darn nice place to live.  El Niño is not the cavalry, and we need to resist the tendency of human beings and political systems to overweight short-term events.

If progress on these policies is stalled by a sense of relief from El Niño, then the costs of the next (or continued) drought will continue to accumulate.

A number of recent policies require continued investment and perhaps acceleration even if it rains like crazy this year:

Mandatory urban conservation measures have been successful in many communities at reducing water consumption. These new levels of urban water efficiency should become a baseline, rather than something that can be relaxed in response to El Niño.

Agriculture, a major user of the state’s water supply, is starting voluntary conservation to avoid mandatory cuts, and the state should continue to support industry efforts to increase adaptive capacity.

Other groundbreaking recent measures include the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014; two 2015 laws that streamline groundwater-dispute resolution; and new requirements under the state Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act of 1969.

Additionally, federal agencies have a new National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Plan and are working with the U.S. Congress to adequately fund the soaring costs of wildfire suppression, so that they can stop borrowing from agency budgets for fire prevention, forest research and recreation.

If progress on these policies is stalled by a sense of relief from El Niño, then the costs of the next (or continued) drought will continue to accumulate.

California has always had a highly variable Mediterranean climate, so the question of whether this is really a “new normal” is not particularly helpful, nor is it an excuse not to act in the face of uncertainty. The local effects of global climate change are here, now.

As history—and today—reminds us, we will have droughts and floods in the future.  Some of them will be extreme. There is no question about whether we should prepare for such inevitable occurrences.  The more we prepare, the lower the costs we experience when they arrive.

Ed’s Note:  Kit Batten is executive director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy. Mark Lubell is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at UC Davis.

 

 


  • ieatfood

    Ag is not the major user of CA’s water. There are three users: Ag, Urban, and Environment. Environment use is 50%, Ag use is 40%, Urban is 10%. This article makes no mention of environmental plans to conserve because there are none. How much does the user of half the water in our state need? Where is the accountability or proof there is a public or environmental benefit? There is none. But please don’t look over there-nothing to see folks. Keep lowering the value of your biggest asset by letting your landscaping die, and keep paying more for less water while drought shaming your neighbor. And don’t complain when you spend more for food at the store. Just keep conserving 25% of a use that is only 10% to start with. I’m sure that 2.5% savings will solve everything.

    • Richard D. Cox

      Great post! I hear crickets in response …………

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