Though the State Water Board has had water use restrictions in place since August 2014–and they seem to be working, the Monterey Herald quoted Governor Jerry Brown recently saying he’s not ready to add to the restrictions statewide: “I’m reluctant to expand the coercive power of state authority,” Brown said. “In a democracy, it is fundamental that citizens be the driving force.” This is good news for those who think that regulation is not the answer. It is also a call to action; a time for individual residents and business to prove that we understand the gravity of the situation and will take care of our water, whether to protect habitat, to ensure enough supply for our growing tech industry or to keep rate increases under control.
San Diego County used 27% less water in December 2014 than it did last December. That’s even better than the statewide reduction of 22%. That’s right, the governor called for 20% reduction in use, and we did it. That figure includes residential use, industrial, agriculture…all the water. It’s a reason to celebrate. But how did we get there, and can we sustain it over the long term, which we must do to ensure continued environmental and economic health in the region?
When the governor declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014, our now four years of drought became national news. Despite cases of extreme need in other areas of California, in San Diego the message was particularly hard to swallow because our reservoirs were relatively full and regional agencies told us not to worry. After a few months of hot weather, a period when our region actually increased water consumption, and strong conservation advocacy by San Diego Coastkeeper, agencies and individuals responded by slowly adjusting their use. In part, this happened in response to regional mandatory restrictions.
What can we do? Think about using less and creating more. San Diego County is at the end of two very important pipelines. Our water comes primarily from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta in the north and the Colorado River to the east. Our region just approved Pure Water to generate 83 million gallons a day of clean local water to replace imports; and coalitions in North and South Counties are discussing similar efforts. With state drought funds being offered for large-scale projects, we need to focus on new and expanded potable reuse projects.
About half of our water use is outside the home. In addition to permanently adjusting our use so that this 27% decrease (and more) becomes the new normal, our personal choices and those of the building and landscape industry must turn to drought tolerant and edible landscaping, and we need governments to support that change. We live in a Mediterranean climate and should create beautiful landscapes that survive and thrive with little water. That means out with the turf and in with beautiful drought-tolerant plants (toyon stays green all year and bougainvillea comes in a palette of colors), or food crops that convert water into foods that nourish the body (and reduce your food’s carbon footprint).
“We need to treat water as the precious resource that it is. We need to be sensitive to the fact that many Californians don’t have or barely have enough water to drink, cook and bathe,” said State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus. “Hundreds of thousands of acres of agriculture have been fallowed, thousands of people are out of work, and fish and wildlife are struggling. Each individual act of conservation – such as letting the lawn go brown or fixing leaks – can add up to huge savings if enough people act.”
By thinking ahead, this can be a relatively painless process. Establishing new landscape requires an upfront investment of water, so timing is everything. Spend upcoming warm, dry months planning, then plant new growth during the cooler, wetter months. And, while you are at it, go ahead and turn the irrigation off to the grassy areas that are going to be replaced.