Executive Summary for January 6th

The state slipped again in November on water conservation, with Southern California showing up as a notable laggard. This raises risks that the governor’s 25 percent target for the year will be missed. Also, the drought has left ski areas scrambling to hire workers after an early blast of snow.

Published on Jan. 6, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Water Conservation Slips in November

Californians achieved only 20 percent water conservation in November, according to new results released Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The steep slide is the second month in a row to fall below Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25 percent goal. It means the state is unlikely to achieve the 25 percent requirement on a cumulative annual basis by the end of the measuring period in February. The cumulative total is now at 26 percent, and just one more month of sub-par effort will bring the total below the mark.

Yet officials are “confident” the 25 percent goal will be reached for the year.

“We expected the percentage drop in the cooler fall and winter months when we use less water in general so we are still on track,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said in a statement.

One of the worst-performing regions in November was the South Coast hydrologic region, which includes the vast Los Angeles-San Diego metropolitan area. The region cut its water use only 14 percent for November. This may seem surprising. But it likely occurred because this region was already a leader in water conservation. As a result, it has already made major progress on indoor conservation. So with the natural reduction in outdoor watering amid the cooler months, there is less conservation opportunity now.

Even so, the statewide savings are remarkable in some respects. Average per-capita water consumption across California is now just 75 gallons per day, a level once achieved by only the most frugal coastal cities. And it’s a huge drop from the 133 gallons recorded in June 2014.

“Californians are clearly thinking twice before turning on the tap,” Marcus said.

Yet as impressive as that is, it’s still a long way from the 40-gallons-per-day range achieved by Australians during their so-called “millennium drought.” In other words, a lot of progress is still possible.

Marcus and others are concerned Californians will forget about conservation now that winter rains have started. The appearance of rain does not end a four-year drought. Only massive accumulations of rain and snow over a prolonged period will do that.

“We’re in such a deep hole,” Marcus told the Associated Press. “We need to have a lot of water in storage and snow in the mountains to let us relax at all.”

Drought Means Trouble Hiring Ski Resort Workers

California’s mountain ski resorts have had a booming start to winter, despite the drought, thanks to early snows that allowed many to open well ahead of the crucial Christmas season.

“The season started out great for us, it’s the best on record,” Donner Ski Ranch owner Janet Tuttle told Fox40 News.

But the season started so strong and so positive that ski areas have had trouble finding enough people to keep the lifts running.

The usual tribe of seasonal ski area workers has apparently thinned out. They made a habit of finding other work during the recent dry years, so resorts have had to scramble for workers.

“Because of the drought the last four years or so, it’s hard to get work up here,” said Tuttle.

Tuttle said she needs extra workers because skiers are coming up in droves.

Although she gives priority to hiring locals, the seasonal nature of the work has caused her to turn to foreign college students on three-month work visas. She has 60 students on staff from Peru, where they are on their summer break.

Many have never seen snow before.

Pricing as a Conservation Tool

The drought has triggered a lot of water-rate increases, and more are certain to come. It has also forced many utility managers to realize that their pricing structures for water may not be adequate to cope with drought and the ongoing deterioration of infrastructure.

These and other issues will be discussed at a workshop Feb. 2–3 in Sacramento.

The event, dubbed “Water Pricing for a Dry Future: Policy Ideas from Abroad and their Relevance to California,” is hosted by University of California, Riverside. It will feature water experts from countries around the world, including China, Chile, Canada, France, Israel, South Africa and Australia. They’ll discuss pricing methods for water that help cope with crises like drought as well as routine operations.

“As California considers how it might use pricing to influence water conservation and cost-recovery, the experience of the rest of the world presents an important object lesson,” said Ariel Dinar, a U.C. Riverside professor of environmental economics and policy. “To insure its future, California needs to look into a long-term set of policies that change the way water is valued and used in the state.”

The workshop will include case studies presented by international scholars and discussion with California-based researchers, practitioners and policymakers on how economic incentives might be used to address water conservation challenges faced by California.

Top image: In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 photo, Diamond Valley Lake is seen near Hemet, Calif. The reservoir constructed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is one of the largest in Southern California. The region fell behind significantly on water conservation in November. (Jae C. Hong, Associated Press)

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