Do Californians Need More Facts about Water Conservation?

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In a region experiencing the most severe drought conditions in the United States, one would think so – but it turns out that may not necessarily be the case. When looking at the latest numbers released by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), it appears that residents of California understand the urgency of the drought affecting their state and are responding to it appropriately.

The Board’s Water Supplier Conservation Compliance Data report, published on August 27, reveals that California exceeded the state mandated guidelines for water use for a second consecutive month in July; in other words, Californians went above and beyond the state’s water conservation guidelines. Cumulatively, the statewide water-savings figure for June and July was 29.5 percent – 4.5 percent above the state’s conservation goals of a 25 percent reduction in water use.

According to SWRCB, what makes this so remarkable is that these impressive conservation efforts are happening during the summer months, when the greatest amount of water is used outdoors. The Board’s official statement seems to communicate that Californians are putting into practice the guidelines and facts about water conservation that are integral to the state’s water reduction campaign.

“Californians’ response to the severity of the drought this summer is now in high gear and shows that they get that we are in the drought of our lives,” Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, stated in the SWRCB press release “This isn’t your mother’s drought or your grandmother’s drought. This is the drought of the century.” She went on to address the impact of the public’s conservation efforts. “Millions of conscientious Californians are the real heroes here,” she said. “(They are) each stepping up to help local water resources last longer in the face of an historic drought with no certain end date.”

According to the Board’s press release, the July 2015 savings moves California 74.6 billion gallons closer to the state’s next goal, which is to save 1.2 million acre-feet of water by February 2016.

Facts about Water Conservation in Drought-Affected States 

California is not the only state to be affected by an officially declared drought. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor – which is produced through a partnership with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – portions of the following nine states are currently mired in drought conditions:

  • California
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Washington
  • New Mexico
  • South Dakota

Reports citing the U.S. Drought Monitor have listed the drought-affected states (shown above) in descending order from greatest to least impacted. According to these reports, 93.91 percent of California is determined to be “in severe drought or worse.” Nevada is next on the list with 86.99 percent of its land in a drought; further down the list, 23.75 percent of Washington is in a drought, and 11.95 percent of New Mexico. South Dakota rounds out the list of drought-affected states, with 1.32 percent of its land qualifying for drought status.

Although the SWRCB report shows a noteworthy response to California’s drought, other states are gradually addressing their drought conditions. In Nevada, Governor Brian Sandoval signed an executive order that established a panel of experts to investigate how the state can improve water conservation. Known as the Nevada Drought Forum, the panel is currently the only official action in response to the state’s drought. Unlike California, Nevada’s executive order does not currently impose water restrictions on municipal agencies. But experts believe that could change as the state acquires more facts about water conservation.

Other Highlights from the SWRCB Report

The board’s report revealed a number of other triumphs for California in terms of water conservation. Those successes were noted in highlights from the report, as follows:

  • The amount of water saved in July 2015 (74.6 billion gallons) is more than four times the amount of water saved in July 2014 (18.0 billion gallons), when the state’s voluntary 20 percent conservation goal was in effect.
  • Statewide, the average residential water use was 98 gallons per capita per day for July 2015, a similar level of residential water use as reported in June 2015 (98.1 residential gallons per capita per day, or R-GPCD), but significantly lower than residential water use in July 2014 (statewide average R-GPCD of 132.9).
  • 290 water suppliers, serving 29.2 million people, met or exceeded their conservation standard in July, up from 265 water suppliers in June. 98 water suppliers exceeded their conservation standard by 10 percent, while 67 water suppliers exceeded their conservation standard by 15 percent or more.

While these achievements are being celebrated, state officials are still urging residential water users to keep up their efforts to conserve. According to the report, just under 90 communities in California fell short of their state mandated conservation goals by anywhere from 6 to 26 percent. Four of them reported missing their target conservation numbers by 15 percent or more.

Although state officials have the capability to fine underperforming water districts, so far it has not imposed any. The state-implemented fines start at $500 a day and increase to $10,000 a day. Opting to not impose the fines may be a strategic decision; according to Marcus, the state is concentrating its efforts on an aggressive information campaign and educating the public on facts about water conservation. “We have an urban movement in California,” Marcus said. “I believe that peer pressure and the bully pulpit (are) going to be most effective.”

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