Californians Unite Against Drought

Even as Californians unite against drought, I have been forced to build a dam to hold back the amount of negative press surrounding how much water Californians have been using this year. SF Gate reported in July “state data showed water use statewide has increased 1 percent over the past three years, despite calls from Gov. Jerry Brown for Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent during the drought.” They went on to report “Southern California coastal cities increased water use by 8.4 percent, and the northeastern part of the state that runs from Oregon to Mono Lake saw a 5 percent increase. Meanwhile, the Sacramento region and northern coastal cities saw the biggest declines in water use, cutting back 13.5 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively. The Bay Area cut water use by 5 percent.”

The problem with reporting water use numbers in this manner suggests water use is static. However, environmental factors make a significant impact on outdoor water use (the biggest percentage of water use by far in California) and simply comparing water use year over year ignores environmental factors. This is one of the biggest challenges we face in water conservation. We can’t take credit for excellent water conservation when temperatures decrease and rain fall increases and we shouldn’t have to take the criticism when rain fall decreases and temperatures rise. We need to raise public awareness of all the factors influencing water use to better measure the progress in water conservation.

The Real Numbers

California has experienced record heat this year. Statewide temperatures in the first six months of the year were up by almost 5 degrees. Southern California was even hotter with a 5.7 degree increase in temperature over last year. In addition to record heat, this year has been one of the driest on record. Rainfall in Los Angeles for the past 12 months ending in July was just 40percent of average. In San Diego they are experiencing their 6th driest 12 months of rainfall since they have been recording rainfall numbers. The Inland Empire is experiencing the same challenges with temperatures and rainfall. This is significant because over half of the population of the state lives in Southern California. Winds were also extreme, especially during the months of April and May.

Considering the high heat, lack of rain and high winds Californians have been successful in battling the drought without having to implement rigid restrictions. The following data suggests Southern California is a leader in water conservation, recycling and ground water recovery. From 1985 to 2013 Southern Californians have achieved a 24 percent reduction in potable water use per person. Demand for water has remained relatively flat even though the population has increased by 5 million over this time period. Comparing water demands during the last big drought in Southern California (2006-2007) to this year, Metropolitan Water District is reporting demands are down. Comparing water demands during similar periods of drought are more valuable than just year over year numbers because of environmental factors.

Incentives For Californians to Unite Against Drought

The rebate program is working in Southern California. Metropolitan Water District increased the incentives earlier this year from $20 million to $40 million.  Applications for turf removal rebates soared during the first half of the year. They went from almost zero to over 7 million square feet in just the month of July. Water pricing has increased in Los Angeles over the past few years and now depending on the efficiency of your irrigation system it might cost as much as $16,000 a year to water an acre of turf. This is getting consumer’s attention as they weigh the costs and benefits of turf.  Smart controller rebates have increased from $25 per station to $35 per station. These incentives provide solutions to change water use habits for the long term instead of the short term gains experienced by water restrictions.

Water Use Not Static

Water use is not static due to environmental factors like, temperature, wind, rain fall and solar radiation. They make significant impacts on the amount of water used. Beware of the water manager who guarantees a year over year water savings because one thing I can guarantee is the weather will change and that will create a change in water use. Water pricing and incentives may also change and effect water use as well.

I encourage you to measure your water use regularly, and carefully consider environmental factors like rainfall and temperatures to fully understand the gains or losses experienced from managing water. The key to management is measurement, and in water management you need to focus on more than one measurement factor to determine the success or failure of your water management program. Californians are really doing a great job battling the drought this year considering the rainfall and temperature situation. This is good news because forecasters are lowering the probability of an El Nino winter this year in California which means Californians are going to have to do even more to battle and unite against drought.

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  1. Derek Stucki Reply

    Hi Richard,

    Great article, sir. You may recall we had a couple of phone conversations while I was with IRWD. I’m on the job market and working to join ValleyCrest’s team. Had several conversations with ValleyCrest folks, most notably Danny McNamara, but continue to search.

    May I request a kind word in the right ear if the opportunity arises?

    Thanks and all the best –
    Derek Stucki

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