Executive Summary for December 3rd

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary, including the most important stories, analysis and data. Our goal is to keep you informed of the day’s most significant events in the field.

Published on Dec. 3, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Drought Prompts Building Moratorium in Pismo Beach

The beachfront town of Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County has become one of the first California cities to enact a building moratorium in response to the ongoing drought.

The moratorium as written sets up three “tiers” that are enacted when the city’s stored water supply shrinks to certain defined limits:

  • Tier 1 – 2,343 acre-feet: Allows completed planning and building-permit applications to be processed but does not allow building-permit applications for vacant parcels. Any new commercial use or redevelopment of existing buildings must show that water demand would be less than or equal to the average monthly usage in the year before the tier was triggered.
  • Tier 2 – 1,130 acre-feet: Prohibits any new building permits, though existing permits will still be processed. New commercial use and redevelopment of existing buildings would be required to show that water demand was at least 15 percent less than the average monthly usage in the year before the tier was implemented.
  • Tier 3 – 850 acre-feet: Requires new commercial use and redevelopment of existing buildings to show that water demand would be at least 30 percent less than the year before the tier was triggered. All municipal irrigation would be banned, except at the direction of the City Council.

Although the supply trigger for the first tier is not expected to be reached until 2016, the council enacted it anyway because residents failed to reach a state-mandated 24 percent water conservation goal in the past two months. They achieved only 19.6 percent and 21.2 percent, respectively, in September and October.

“We’ve been down this road and [have been] discussing it since March – and it’s now December – and we need to pull the trigger,” Mayor Shelly Higginbotham told the San Luis Obispo Tribune newspaper.

Councilman Erik Howell cast the lone dissenting voice on the plan, saying he felt there were other ways to encourage conservation rather than prohibiting building activity.

“I guess I just don’t think this is the way to be making policy,” Howell said. “I think that we have to mandate the use of less water. We still see in public spaces a lot of green grass. I still see people’s timers setting off their watering, their sprinklers, while it’s raining.”

Drought Remains Top Public Concern

A new public opinion survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that water and the ongoing drought are still the top issue of concern to Californians, eclipsing the economy, jobs, immigration, housing and the health of the state budget.

The telephone survey of 1,703 adults found that California’s drought and water supply crisis is the top concern for 27 percent of those polled, versus 24 percent for jobs and the economy.

Concern about the drought, however, slipped compared to the institute’s last survey in September, when 32 percent rated it their top concern.

“The issue of water and the drought seems to have peaked for the time being,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Concerns about the economy and housing costs are resurfacing.”

Orange County and San Diego residents were most likely to rate water and drought as their top concern, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area. However, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire rated jobs and the economy a greater concern than drought.

Thirty percent of Democrats and independent voters named drought as their top concern, compared to a much lower number – 16 percent – for Republicans.

Rewarding Hotel Guests Who Conserve

By now, we’ve all seen those little cards in hotel bathrooms: to save water, skip the daily housekeeping service and use your towels more than once. But do guests often really do this?

Martin Resorts, which operates a chain of five hotels in scenic San Luis Obispo County, has come up with a unique way to ensure more water savings: guests get a $5 nightly discount if they go without housekeeping service on multiple-night visits.

Noreen Martin, the company’s CEO, says the incentive has been a “big hit” with guests.

“Our guests seem to like the savings in both dollars and drops,” she told the San Luis Obispo Tribune newspaper.

According to the International Tourism Partnership, an organization that encourages sustainable hotel practices, water use in guest rooms is far and away the largest source of water consumption at hotels. Linen reuse programs are an effective way to cut that water use, but may leave guests “cynical” if they perceive the hotel staff itself does not adhere to it.

“Guests often think this is just a cost-saving exercise for the hotel,” the group reported in 2013.

Thus, a discount for guests who conserve, as offered by Martin Resorts, is a handy way around this risk: the guest benefits directly by helping the hotel conserve water.

Such programs may become increasingly important as the drought continues. Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of Visit SLO County, the regional tourism agency, said many hotel operators are already letting their guard down on water conservation because they’ve come to believe the impending arrival of the El Niño weather system means the drought will end.

That’s a mistaken assumption, since El Niño guarantees neither a wet winter nor an end to the drought.

“Now we’re in this whole realm of ‘we’re not going to focus on it because we’ll have plenty of water,’” Davidson said. “But this is more about a change in lifestyle, than ‘hey, let’s do this for the season.’ It’s a long-term issue.”

Top image: A shoe sits on the dry lake bed at Folsom Lake, California in October, 2015. A new survey shows Californians continue to view the drought as the state’s top public policy concern. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

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