Drought Highlights the Need to Conserve Water, Improve Local Water Supplies

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Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 8:19 pm | Updated: 8:28 pm, Tue Jan 21, 2014.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Governor Jerry Brown recently proclaimed a State of Emergency in California and called for water conservation statewide, directing state officials to prepare and manage water for these drought conditions. The declaration comes after the driest calendar year in California’s recorded history, during one of the driest winters on record in the state and what is shaping to be three consecutive dry years.

“Drought impacts all of us, from cities to farms to vulnerable native fisheries and other wildlife. We all depend on water to survive and thrive. Agriculture consumes 80 percent of California’s water supplies and we all need to do our part," said Kate Poole, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Water and Wildlife team and litigation director of the Water Program. "We welcome the Governor’s call to action to conserve water this year, and the drought is a reminder that proven solutions such as urban rainwater and stormwater harvesting, better groundwater management, and water conservation, recycling and efficiency can go a long way to maintain healthy rivers, support fisheries and provide reliable water even in times of drought for cities and farms. By investing in these tools and developing local water supplies, California can improve local reliance, healthy rivers and robust fisheries at the same time and at an affordable cost.”

Here’s what California should and should not do to help the state weather this and future droughts:

1. Conservation and Reduced Reliance on the Delta Work

Despite the exceptionally dry conditions, vast regions of California have no plans to impose water rationing or other mandatory conservation measures this year. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, serving close to 19 million people, announced that it has enough water to serve its customers this year without requiring cutbacks in use, despite receiving only a 5 percent initial allocation from the State Water Project. Similarly, the Contra Costa Water District in northern California does not expect to ration water to its Bay Area customers this year, despite warnings of very low allocations from the Central Valley Project, a key Contra Costa supplier from the Delta.

These water agencies planned ahead, knowing that droughts are a regular and predictable occurrence in California, likely to increase in frequency and duration in a climate changed future, and invested in sensible, local water supply measures that allowed them to reduce their dependence on fickle water supplies from the Delta. Other water agencies should make similar investments to reduce reliance on the imperiled Delta.

2. Don’t Do Additional Harm to Birds, Fish and Wildlife That Are Already Suffering

Our prized salmon and other native fish and wildlife also suffer in periods of drought, in part because existing water quality standards and other fishery protections are much weaker in dry years. Already, sizeable numbers of chinook salmon eggs have been dried up in the Sacramento and American Rivers due to lack of sufficient flows, and wildfowl are finding that refuges along the Pacific flyway are dry, depriving them of food and creating conditions ripe for overcrowding and disease. We should not further imperil their already shaky existence by depriving fish and wildlife of the minimal water and flows that are called for by our water quality standards, endangered species protections, and other measures designed to protect the public trust.

3. Take Charge of Your Own Water Use

Even if a water district is not calling for mandatory water use restrictions, learn about where water comes from and think about what can be done to reduce water footprint.

SOURCE: Natural Resources Defense Council

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