It ain’t over

The effects of the drought continue, signaling extended water restrictions and the importance of conservation

A year ago this month, Gov. Jerry Brown called for mandatory water conservation efforts throughout California’s 400-plus urban water agencies. This emergency measure calling for a 25 percent reduction statewide compared with usage in 2013 came during the fourth consecutive year of drought.

This week, the state announced that water users had slacked off, missing that target for the past five months and ending the nine-month cumulative savings at 23.9 percent—1 percent short of the target. Granted, that’s a lot of water savings. It’s an estimated 1.19 million acre-feet, enough water to supply about 6 million residents for a year, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Here in Chico, where we’re reliant solely on groundwater, we’ve seen the evidence of conservation efforts in the brown lawns that lined many streets last summer. Cumulatively, according to Chico’s Cal Water Co. District Manager Pete Bonacich, Chicoans embraced the measure, conserving 37.6 percent. The target was 32 percent.

But before we start patting ourselves on the back, it’s important to take in the long view. Despite this El Niño year, the state, particularly Southern California, remains parched. The North State’s reservoirs may be nearly full, but thirsty Central Valley farmers and many municipal users in communities from the Bay Area on down are counting on those supplies. They are facing severe water shortages.

As a result, Brown has extended the mandatory restrictions through October. That message hasn’t resonated with some water suppliers. One district that supplies a suburb of Sacramento has eschewed Brown’s order and is holding its customers only to a 10 percent voluntary reduction. That’s a mistake and one we shouldn’t emulate.

The caveat to the governor’s extension is that districts have some leeway with the reduction requirements. Locally, we will see some relief. Cal Water announced that Chico’s target will now be 29 percent while Oroville is going from 28 percent to 25 percent, as of April 1.

The takeaway is that the drought isn’t over. We need to remain vigilant.