CHARLES T. GIBSON, Santa Margarita Water District President
Thanks to investments in facilities, storage, and water use-efficiencies including recycled water, people in Southern California can be confident that their water supply will be reliable even during a multi-year period of drought. More recently, Northern Californians have redoubled their conservation efforts, made investments in water projects, and improved on water use efficiency. The Sacramento San Joaquin watershed is still lacking in adequate storage and distribution facilities so much of that water goes to the ocean.
As a director of a local water district, I appreciate Governor Newsom’s actions that recognize the value of past investments in local water supplies including recycled water treatment, storage and conveyance improvements in Northern California.
Regarding conservation, I was surprised by a recent announcement that he might require a mandatory 15% reduction in water use on top of the 20% or more reduction achieved during the last drought. It is crucial that the governor clarify his position and give credit for previous conservation as well as the significant investments in water recycling projects. Any across- the-board, mandatory reduction in use that does not recognize the value of water recycling and reuse seems to be completely at odds with the governor’s previously announced “Water Resilience Portfolio” to maintain and diversify water supplies. As stated in the governor’s policy, “No single solution can fully address the state’s water challenges.” In this case, a single policy of mandatory water use reduction would undermine many other good policies.
A state mandated reduction in usage ignores past and planned investments in local supplies. A percentage quota reduction would be a powerful a disincentive to make future investments. Research on this failed policy indicates that quotas are counterproductive to collaboration among water management organizations, and cost customers $1 billion during the last drought.
“Conservation as a way of life” should begin locally with agencies implementing reviews and certifying their supplies and the steps needed to weather this and any drought or emergency. Give Californians an understanding of the need, provide information on steps they can take to be more efficient, and offer appropriate incentives and they will take responsibility for preventing waste. Water reliability can be achieved through a combination of water use efficiency, new sources (including recycling and ocean desalination), additional storage, and better coordination among water agencies.