California officials say a new plan will make water conservation ‘a way of life’
By Darryl Fears
Dec 31 2016
Here in the land of beauty and make-believe, it’s important to keep up appearances. Tracy Quinn sees it whenever she walks her dog: sprinklers irrigating pretty green lawns and wasted water bleeding across sidewalks during the state’s driest spell in centuries.
“It drives me crazy,” said Quinn, a water policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But now California is preparing for a dramatic change in how its residents use water. A water management plan that could be finalized in January is designed to make conservation “a way of life.”
“I think it’s a really great way to go,” Quinn said.
California is entering its sixth year of extreme drought, and it has enacted water restriction plans before. In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared that watering grass every day was “going to be a thing of the past.” He issued an executive order that forced the state’s 410 water agencies to cut up to 36 percent of their water use, compared with 2013.
The new plan would instead give each water agency a budget for how much water its customers are allowed to use. Each agency’s allowance would be based on estimates from state officials of its demographics — population, economy, outdoor temperature, tree canopy and even the rate of water evaporation — to determine its need.
Many agencies will be forced to purchase costly technology that detects even the smallest leaks in water lines and to hire data analysts to record and report water use. An association that represents California water agencies said it has yet to examine the overall cost but predicted it would easily surpass $1 billion.
For the first time, farms in the state would be required to account for nearly every drop of water they pull from aquifers they are depleting, often to grow thirsty cash crops such as almonds and rice that require extensive irrigation in naturally dry conditions.
The proposal, “Making Water Conservation a Way of Life,” must overcome a slew of public and legislative debates over the next three years before implementation, but it is being embraced by strange bedfellows: the Association of California Water Agencies and environmental groups such as California Coastkeeper Alliance that often battle the association over water.