Executive Summary for February 26th

In this weekly roundup we analyze key developments in the California drought, including the latest statewide numbers that show conservation efforts are slipping once again. And we look at new State Water Project allocations and key information about Australia’s drought that could help California.

Published on Feb. 26, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Conservation Falls Statewide

The latest monthly conservation numbers are in and it’s a mixed bag. First the bad news. The state Water Board reported that for the first time since June, Californians failed to hit the cumulative water conservation target of 25 percent mandated by Gov. Jerry Brown last spring. The current number (from June through January) is now 24.8 percent, which is pretty darn close, but the trend has been on the downward slide during the winter months.

In December, conservation statewide dropped to 18.4 percent and then fell to 17.1 percent in January. And that means that only 58 percent of water suppliers met the target they were supposed to achieve. Not a great compliance rate, but it also happened during the rainiest/snowiest month the state has had in years.

There is some good news, though. Californians are in fact saving water, and the amount is beginning to add up. From June through January, the number totaled 1.1 million acre-feet of water, which means we’re 96 percent of the way toward hitting the 1.2 million acre-feet of water goal set by the governor by the end of February.

The other bit of good news is how much water Californians are using on average each day is dropping. The Water Board reports that in January, residential gallons per capita per day hit a record low of 61, which dropped from 67 gallons the previous month. And by comparison, that number was 73.1 gallons per person per day at the same time last year.

January’s falling conservation numbers on top of a pretty dry February means that Californians need a little pep talk.

“We’re hoping for every raindrop and every snowflake we can handle. We’re hoping for a miracle March and an awesome April. But we can’t know what the next couple months will bring. And a warm and dry February has proved that we can’t count on El Niño to save us,” said State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “Californians have risen to the occasion as never before. But we have to stay the course. We have to keep it up.”

State Water Project Allotments Increase

On Thursday, the State Water Project announced that it was upping this year’s water allocation, thanks to some winter storms. Contractors will get 1,268,724 acre-feet (or 30 percent of requested water), which is actually twice as much as initially promised this year. It’s still a far cry from the 4,172,786 acre-feet requested, but a modest improvement from earlier in the winter.

A note to contractors from the Department of Water Resources detailed the factors involved in determining the allocation and it included: “California’s persistent drought evidenced by below-normal runoff compared to rain received thus far this winter and resulting continued low storage in SWP conservation facilities; SWP operational constraints under its water right permits; the Biological Opinions for Delta Smelt and Salmon; the Longfin Smelt incidental take permit; and the 2016 contractors demands.”

Many are still holding out hope that El Niño can bring more wet weather in March and April, despite a pretty dry February. Snowpack has fallen to 91 percent of average across the state, after being 114 percent in January. Even a normal water year wouldn’t come close to making up for four years of drought.

Learning from Australia’s Drought

Australia, which experienced a decade-long drought, known as the millennium drought, has a few things to teach Californians if we’re willing to listen. A new report called Managing Drought: Learning from Australia may help. It’s a collaborative effort between the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, the Pacific Institute and the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

The report looks at best practices and mistakes made in fighting drought in Australia’s biggest cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. It llists three key findings:

  • Fostering community involvement and collaboration in saving water, whether concerning homes, businesses, industry or government
  • Communicating clearly with the public about drought conditions and what is needed
  • Using innovative pricing mechanism (not used in Australia) could be key to boosting conservation measures in California

“In Australia, urban water efficiency was the quiet achiever and California can benefit from long-term structural changes in water use by implementing similar water-efficiency measures,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “We wanted to document in this report lessons learned that can inform future decisions by California’s policymakers.”

Top image: In this June 23, 2015, file photo a lawn is irrigated in Sacramento, Calif. State officials say residents of drought-weary California in January missed their 25 percent water conservation mandate. (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

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