It's looking like a long, hot summer — and it's going to be even more parched if Californians don't get with the program.
State officials reported last week that residents and businesses are falling woefully short of the 20% water conservation goal in Gov. Jerry Brown's emergency drought declaration.
The statewide reduction was a pitiful 5% between January and May, compared with the same period the preceding three years. Among the state's 10 water regions, the Sacramento Valley leads the way with 10% savings, but then again it has further to go than many areas to be water-efficient. The San Joaquin Valley had 7% savings — second highest in the state. The worst conservation performances were along the Central Coast and in the Bay Area, which reported zero and 2% conservation, respectively.
Water agencies in Southern California and elsewhere, which have reduced per-person water use with long-standing, robust conservation programs, can plausibly claim that it's more difficult for them to wring out more savings.
Some officials argue that a blanket conservation target is unrealistic and unfair because of the different climate and vegetation across the state.
Still, everyone has to do his or her part for voluntary conservation to work. The State Water Resources Control Board is starting to talk about stricter measures. Already, it has ordered 4,200 holders of "junior" water rights — those issued after 1914 — to stop drawing from many rivers and streams in the Central Valley, the first time that has happened since the severe drought of 1976-77.
Correctly, its chairwoman said the board must prepare for worst-case scenarios of the drought continuing well into next year. To pick the right solutions, the board needs to know the extent of the problem. The data it released are not definitive, compiled from surveys returned by just 270 of 443 water agencies across California.
The board should heed the call for mandatory reporting of water production and consumption at least during the drought. While big changes in how we use, and reuse, water may be in store in the longer term, there's no excuse for not saving as much as we can in the here and now.
It's not that hard: Take shorter showers, make sure pipes aren't leaking, wash only full loads, reduce lawn irrigation times. You can even look into installing water-efficient toilets or taking advantage of rebates for replacing lawns with less thirsty landscaping.
Gallon by gallon, it all adds up.