Is California's drought a new normal? Here's what Sacramento should do.

The California Department of Water Resources has drought information, as well as tips for conservation, on its website at
The City of Sacramento Department of Utilities maintains water-conservation information at

Sacramento is not prepared for this latest drought.

We live in a fragile, beautiful place where two rivers converge, and are extremely fortunate compared to other parts of the state because, in most years, we have enough water.

Now, we face a difficult future. Not only have we just completed the driest year on record, we’ve also been growing in population and dealing with the concomitant increase in demand for water. The Folsom Reservoir is at a historic low; its operators have begun reducing its output to forestall the point at which some of the intake pipes for upstream cities will begin to pull in air instead of water.

At the same time, we’ve been offered a vision of what our communities could look like without water. Across the country in West Virginia, a toxic leak left more than 300,000 people without access to water usable for anything but flushing down sewer pipes. Emergency drinking-water supplies helped, sure, but the economic consequences were devastating. Businesses and schools couldn’t function. Hospitals were in dire straits.

Water isn’t a luxury.

Our current situation must be taken seriously. Without foresight on the part of our government agencies—and plenty of assistance from the public—what is now an inconvenience could easily become a catastrophe.

The problem is, there are nearly two-dozen water agencies in the greater Sacramento area, and each boasts varying plans for conservation.

Let’s not wait until a crisis is here to start learning to live with less. Drip-irrigation systems need to become part of our zoning requirements, and rewards for low-water plantings need to be incorporated into city codes. Landscaping and the outdoors account for most of the region’s water use, so we’re going to need to drastically change the water needs for our outdoor and open spaces.

Remember: Sacramento’s climate is dry. In a normal year, we can expect roughly 21 inches of rain—that’s roughly the same as the Sahel region of Africa. The dams and irrigation we’ve built may have promoted the illusion of a water-rich paradise, but as the late author Marc Reisner wrote in his landmark book Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water, “California, which fools visitors into believing it is ’lush,’ is a beautiful fraud.”

We heartily endorse Sacramento City Manager John Shirey’s recommendation of a “Stage 2 declaration,” which will require water-use reductions of 20-30 percent locally. Actually, we endorse more aggressive reductions. This follows similar restrictions in Folsom and Roseville. The San Juan Water District is calling for voluntary 50 percent reduction.

We also call upon our neighbors to practice good stewardship of our water, including basic conservation measures and responsible behavior.

This may or may not be a temporary situation: There’s also the possibility that a “new normal” is emerging as our climate changes. The question is whether or not we are willing to adapt to it.

Now is a very good time to get started.