Be prepared. If the recent drought taught us anything, it’s how important this lesson is going to be to California’s future.
So, even as we’re so thankful that our epic and unprecedented drought has been declared “over,” we have to make sure we are prepared because water scarcity is a fact of life in California.
It’s not just that climate change is going to keep hitting us with hotter, drier weather. Even before the drought, a gap was emerging between the supply of water we could pull from our rivers and aquifers and the demands of California’s booming economy, rising population, expanding cities and suburbs and the environment.
The combination of demand and climate change is a double whammy. Think about just this one piece of California’s water puzzle: right now, 60 percent of the state’s water comes from Sierra mountain snow, but by the end of the century global warming could cut the size of the snowpack in half.
There is good news, though. During the drought Californians answered the call to reduce water demand, showing that we have a remarkable capacity to use water more efficiently. Now we need to keep this momentum going.
That’s why eight Connect the Drops business partners from a variety of sectors support a group of bills and associated budget allocation being considered by the California legislature that are aligned with the state’s April 2017 report, Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life. The bills are good for business because they provide a stable and fair playing field built for the long term.
We saw first-hand that in most cases conserving water and being more efficient offer the cheapest and fastest way to deal with water scarcity. By comparison, building entirely new supplies, whether through desalinization plants or surface water storage, is much more expensive.
We also learned the hard way that we cannot afford to lurch through water emergencies. We don’t want a repeat of top-down, mandated conservation. We need to make a fundamental shift to conservation, so we don’t rely on a patchwork of restrictions and revert to cutbacks created through emergency measures. Instead localities can drive efficient and reasonable water use.
The series of bills being considered, and a parallel effort through the budget process to develop water use standards and targets, is based directly on these lessons the drought taught us. These policies will significantly improve our water management in California by helping the state’s agricultural and urban water suppliers be better prepared for future drought conditions. They’ll help businesses pinpoint the best water conservation technologies that also drive energy efficiency.
Directly in that vein is A.B. 1667, which expands agricultural water management planning and updates planning requirements to improve water efficiency. The bill also improves data access and facilitates the adoption of more robust water-saving practices, including those that improve soil health, which can both reduce water use and increase crop productivity.
Along the same lines, A.B. 1668 requires urban water suppliers to plan for longer-term droughts, evaluate water supplies annually and prepare water shortage contingency plans, with standardized shortage stages providing much-needed consistency statewide.
These policies should lead to more limited disruptions in the water supply to communities, farmers and businesses, helping lower the impact of drought conditions on California’s economy. They’ll also let local officials and their customers understand the risks of water supply shortages from longer and more severe droughts and improve the information sent to both customers and the state during droughts.
Improved planning and information will help communities to respond better to the more frequent and severe drought conditions (the new “normal”) we are going to face under climate change, and reduce costs and impacts on customers.
A.B. 1000 requires that the California Energy Commission certify innovative water conservation and water loss detection and control technologies that are cost-effective and increase energy efficiency. In turn, this will provide insight into best management practices for addressing water inefficiencies.
It’s just smart business to prepare for the more severe, frequent and extended droughts we’re going to face in the future by making sure that we have a sustainable approach to managing water that the economy, citizens and the environment need.
That’s why Ceres and our partners support these policies and aligned budget allocations so water conservation can become a California way of life. They’ll give our communities and our businesses the stable water resources we need for the long run.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that A.B. 1669 did not pass committee.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.