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Why Scoring Zero in Stress Tests Is Good News

Now that there is no longer a conservation mandate, many California water agencies have set themselves new rules on efficient usage. Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, explains the benefits.

Written by Timothy Quinn Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
California drought15
Eric Graham pauses for photos on synthetic turf he installed to save money on water bills Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in Irvine, Calif.Jae C. Hong, AP

The State Water Resources Control Board has just released the first month of conservation data under new state rules that emphasize drought preparedness and local discretion regarding conservation activities. Not surprisingly, the data demonstrate that Californians are using water efficiently both indoors and outdoors.

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) supported the policy shift from last year’s top-down, state-mandated conservation targets to this year’s “stress test” approach – emphasizing local discretion, subject to a strong standard of drought preparedness. This critical shift in policy has been positive for water agencies across the state, which have for years invested in drought-resilient supplies and water-use efficiency measures.

But now that the policy has shifted, it’s time to reframe the conversation when it comes to measuring success, especially stress test results.

Under the new rules, many water suppliers are certifying that they are indeed drought-prepared by reporting “zeroes” on their stress tests. Ironically, though scoring zero may look like a failing grade, in fact it means the agency has passed the test with flying colors. When it gets a zero on a stress test it means there is a zero gap between supply and demand: The agency is certifying that it is 100 percent drought-prepared.

Patches of yellowing grass line the area at West Haven Park in Garden Grove, Calif. on Aug. 2, 2016. Californians conserved less water in June, the first month that statewide drought restrictions were eased following a winter of near average rain and snowfall, state officials said Thursday, July 28. (Amy Taxin, AP)

Patches of yellowing grass line the area at West Haven Park in Garden Grove, Calif. on Aug. 2, 2016. Californians conserved less water in June, the first month that statewide drought restrictions were eased following a winter of near average rain and snowfall, state officials said Thursday, July 28. (Amy Taxin, AP)

For years, even before the current drought, local agencies have made deliberate investments in local strategies such as recycled water, storage, desalination and upgraded infrastructure. And they’re not backing off on conservation. They have worked hard to increase their water efficiency and maintain that efficiency through long-term conservation. These stress test results are a good news story that shows the public’s support for local investments is paying off.

Through Save Our Water, ACWA and its members continue to directly encourage Californians to conserve water and make permanent changes to reduce its usage. Under its new campaign, “Water Conservation: It’s For Life,” Save Our Water is rolling out media efforts including radio commercials and outdoor media that will be seen and heard throughout the state.

ACWA has also compiled examples from all over the state where water suppliers are continuing robust conservation programs and putting significant dollars and resources into rebates, water-wise house calls, public outreach and enforcement activities.

Even though more extreme conservation measures such as putting a bucket in the shower or letting your lawn go completely brown are not needed in many areas right now, we know the conservation ethic continues.

We applaud Californians for their ongoing conservation efforts during this historic drought. Recent polling tells us the vast majority of them want to keep on conserving, and local water agencies are going to do all they can to encourage that attitude and help them make conservation a way of life. But to the extent that local agencies have invested and do not need to impose extraordinary measures on their customers this summer, that is a good news story for California.

This story was first published by the Association of California Water Agencies.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

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