California faces a water crisis, but consumption is high. Officials are focusing on the wrong things, proponents say

California faces a water crisis, but consumption is high.  Officials are focusing on the wrong things, proponents say

Newsom has urged residents and businesses to reduce their water use by 15%. But in March, urban water use increased by 19% compared to March 2020, the year the current drought began. It was the highest March water use since 2015, the state Water Resources Control Board reported earlier this week.
Part of the problem is that the urgency of the crisis isn’t reaching Californians. Water conservation messages vary by agency and jurisdiction, so people don’t have a clear idea of ​​what applies to whom. And they certainly have no tangible idea of ​​how much a 15% reduction means in terms of their own consumption.
Kelsey Hinton, communications director for the Community Water Center, a group campaigning for affordable access to clean water, said urban communities – which typically get water from the state’s reservoirs – don’t seem to understand the severity of the drought the way rural communities do , where the water could literally not flow from the tap once their groundwater reserves are exhausted.

“Every day in our work, people feel the seriousness of this and know that we need to work on real solutions to address the ongoing drought,” Hinton told CNN. “But if you live in Sacramento, you don’t see the same urgency here because we don’t rely on groundwater and scarce resources as much as these communities do.”

But proponents say government officials are also focusing on the wrong approach. They say that voluntary water cuts in residential areas are not the solution and that restrictions should be imposed on businesses and industries that use most of the state’s water.

“Business water abuse needs to be addressed or other actions won’t matter,” said Jessica Gable, a spokeswoman for Food & Water Watch.

“The perception in California right now is that it’s no longer a secret that drought is linked to climate change,” Gable told CNN. “But no effort has been made to curb the industries that use the most water, which also happen to be the industries that produce the most emissions that are fueling the climate crisis.”

Last out of place

Most of the increase in water use in March came from Southern California water jurisdictions. Utilization in the South Coast hydrological region, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego counties, for example, increased 27% from March 2020, according to data from the state water agency. Only the north coast region saved water in March, saving about 4.3% of its consumption.

Edward Ortiz, spokesman for the state Water Resources Control Board, said March was a major setback for the governor’s water goals.

“This is a worrying development in our drought response as a state,” Ortiz told CNN. “Making water conservation a way of life is one way Californians can respond to these conditions. Saving water should be practiced in all weathers.”

He said Californians “need to redouble their efforts to conserve water inside and outside of our homes and businesses.”

Last month, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District announced its toughest water restrictions for residents and businesses in counties around Los Angeles, with a goal of reducing water use by at least 35%. From June 1st, outdoor water use will be limited to one day per week.
Sprinklers irrigate fields in Kern County.

But community advocates say residents are wondering if big water users also face the same pressures and painful choices to conserve — namely agriculture, which requires a large amount of water (things like almonds, alfalfa, avocados and tomatoes) or Fracking, where tens of millions of gallons of water can be used to frack a single fossil fuel source.

Gable said that while every little bit counts, the repeated pleas to individuals to conserve water “may seem inappropriate at best and potentially negligent” because the industries that could drastically reduce the excessive amount of water allocated to them are rarely held accountable.

Amanda Starbuck, director of research at Food & Water Watch, said reducing water use in residential communities is like telling people recycling could save the planet. While it is a sensible measure, she said it will not affect the overall crisis.

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“It’s also a bit demeaning to blame residential use for these crises,” Starbuck told CNN. “It is only a small fraction of the total consumption. It’s a much bigger problem and we really need to start embracing these big industries that are eating water in this drought season.”

A spokesman for Newsom’s office told CNN that since March, local water boards have been setting new targets that should result in reduced use — including limiting outdoor irrigation — and that more decisions are due before the state board this month.

“We are confident that these actions will make a significant contribution to the state’s overall water conservation goals, as outdoor irrigation is one of the largest single water consumers,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The spokesman also pointed to additional funding for water resilience that the governor announced in his budget proposal on Friday. This funding is part of $47 billion earmarked to help the state address the impact of the climate crisis.

“With the infusion of additional funds, we will be able to more effectively educate Californians about the need to conserve water and the biggest water-saving actions they can take, and to assist local water districts in responding to the drought emergency,” the spokesman said .

Other sources dry up

While much of the water talk focuses on urban uses, Hinton said rural communities live with the daily fear that the water will stop flowing.

“The bigger story, for us at least, is when we’re in the middle of a drought like this, it’s not just shorter showers and the cessation of outdoor water use for our families,” Hinton told CNN. “Our families are concerned that their water is just not flowing.”

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These are communities that don’t rely on reservoirs — where much of the focus has been on reaching critically low levels — but instead use private groundwater wells.

The big concern is that extreme drought will cause the state’s water table to drop while more is pumped out for agriculture and other uses.

“The urgency is there with the families we work with because they know what happened before,” she said. “We have people who have had wells dry since the last drought and still couldn’t afford to deepen them or hook up to a long-term solution.”

Heat waves, worsening droughts and devastating wildfires have ravaged the West in recent years. Given these vivid images of the climate crisis, Hinton believes governments must prioritize individual water needs over industry.

“Climate change has forever made drought a reality for us, and now we have to deal with that as a state,” Hinton said. “And the more we can accept that and be proactive, the less we’re going to be constantly responding to those situations where entire communities have to dry out or urban areas have to cut water to that amount because we’ve already overexploited what was used to us.” Disposal.”

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