Official: Californians Understanding Need to Conserve Water

27 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California Agriculture Posted Record Revenues During Drought.

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — State officials say that water conservation figures for July show California residents are beginning to understand the dire need to cut back in a fourth year of drought. The worst drought in at least 120 years has seemingly failed to hamper California’s agricultural sector, which drew in more than $33 billion in crop revenue in 2014: the second-highest ever recorded in the state.Re “Winning the Drought,” by Charles Fishman (Sunday Review, Aug. 16): Yes, California has much to be proud of in terms of its environmental leadership. Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said that regulators are now turning their focus to the communities failing to conserve.

According to research, one particular type of seed is partially to blame, accounting for up to one tenth of the state’s total water consumption per year. We have invested in new infrastructure that provides greater flexibility for responding to emergencies, dramatically expanded water storage capacity, fashioned the largest farm-to-urban water transfer in U.S. history – and we are just months from completing the largest seawater desalination project in the country. Five primers from the independent digital media project Water Deeply, along with an interactive timeline with key benchmarks from the drought’s genesis until now, provide basic, important information about many facets of the drought and how we are dealing with it. The industry employed 417,000 people last year, the state’s largest agricultural workforce on record. “One of the reasons that agricultural revenues and employment are as strong as they are is because of groundwater overdraft,” Heather Cooley, the lead author of the study, told the Desert Sun. “It can help insulate the agricultural sector from some of the short-term impacts, but it does create impacts and costs that are borne by others, both in current and future generations.” On whole, California’s farms rely on groundwater for about 40% of all water used for irrigation, though the study is also careful to address discrepancies between regions across the state. First, let’s stop calling this a drought; when we do so, we are holding on to the notion that the past is a guide to the future and that a good rain will return us to normal.

Even with hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland left dry during the most severe drought on record, California farmers have been bringing in record-high revenue from crops, according to a study released Wednesday. The study from the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based think tank, concluded that revenues and the numbers of farm-related jobs have been pushed higher because of a shift to more high-value crops, such as almonds, pistachios and wine grapes.

Visit The Sacramento Bee’s new multimedia partner for additional drought coverage, including daily updates and analysis from around California. Particularly infertile areas, like the San Joaquin Valley (whose poverty and unemployment levels have earned it the nickname “the Appalachia of the West”), saw the agricultural workforce markedly shrink. Couple this with a dramatic reduction in supply (very little rain or snowpack), and the state is now adjusting to the new normal through technology and public policy innovations to move beyond business-as-usual practices. In a report released earlier this month, NASA researchers found that the land near Corcoran, Calif., in Kings County sank 13 inches in eight months, or about 1.6 inches a month. Contacted independently, water districts serving San Jose, San Diego and Fresno — among California’s largest cities — say they’ve surpassed their mandated targets and continue to increase conservation.

Those improvements have come at a substantial cost – several billion dollars – and now it’s only fair that our region receive proper credit from state water-use regulators who set emergency conservation targets. In May, the state board adopted regulations that require local urban water agencies to cut their water use from 8 to 36 percent, successfully decreasing water consumption across California.

San Diego County’s water use dropped roughly 32 percent in July compared to July 2013, according to preliminary estimates by the San Diego County Water Authority. The writer is director and practice leader, water strategy, at Deloitte Consulting and the author of several books about sustainability and water strategies. But state regulations fall short of fairness in one important aspect: They don’t account for projects such as the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which will produce 50 million gallons of water per day starting late this fall, enough to meet 7 to 10 percent of the region’s demand. Many are free and easy and can make a big difference. ▪ In the toilet: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” Flushing toilets is the largest use of water in the home. The lack of available water in California may be causing housing development problems, but it also is resulting in staggering losses for the state’s farm community.

The drought has certainly bitten us, but California agriculture by and large is still thriving in most places,” said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. “We think that both the jobs and the revenues would be quite a bit more if it weren’t for the drought.” Almond and pistachio orchards have become particularly profitable as demand for nuts has surged in China and other parts of Asia in the past decade. Whether California’s drought is linked to the potential of rising greenhouse-gas emissions to increase the frequency of extreme weather is being debated4.

That has led to more planting of orchards, which unlike vegetable crops can’t be left fallow through dry years. “In the longer term, we really do need to make sure that we recharge groundwater in wetter years, so that we have it available to keep these much more profitable permanent crops going through dry years,” Lund said. During these dry days, few question whether that resource is worth the cost – except that state regulators have effectively ignored it when setting water-use reduction targets. You don’t wash your towels and sheets every day at home, and there’s no need to do it in a hotel, either. ▪ Run only full loads in the dishwasher and clothes washer, and choose a shorter cycle. Under the state’s current approach, we could get 100 percent of our water from desalination and still have to reduce water use by the prescribed amounts. While fallowed farmland can be put back into production, farmland that has been paved over is gone forever, with recurring economic losses that cannot be recovered.

The researchers didn’t examine other categories, such as livestock and dairy products, because complete information for 2014 wasn’t available when they were preparing the report. California needs to move faster on its plans to regulate groundwater use; legislation passed last year doesn’t require the state to reach full sustainability until the 2040s. This is important for reporting cases of water waste you might observe. ▪ Report water waste and leaks in your neighborhood, on public land or private, to the local water agency. Many water agencies are understaffed and depend on the public to be their eyes in the community. ▪ Be able to define your watershed: Learn where your water comes from, how much is left and what steps are being taken to protect this supply and secure more. We call for more studies and legislative consideration of the human impacts on water stress caused by urbanization, greenhouse-gas emissions and food and energy production, as well as for policy and management practices more suitable to prosperous economies and developed water systems.

A version of this letter appears in print on August 27, 2015, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: In California, a ‘Thoughtful’ Conversation on Water. If residents and businesses know they will face the same demands for water-use reduction from regulators no matter what they do, who would invest in new supplies? If businesses can’t count on these investments in water supply reliability, it makes it much harder to attract and retain the companies we need to maintain a robust economy. You might be surprised to learn that some of your drinking water is imported from outside your watershed. ▪ If you live in an apartment, urge management to fix leaks promptly, cut back on landscape watering and install water-saving faucets and appliances. ▪ Offer to organize a workplace water conservation committee to suggest other steps. While farms and cities alike have made progress, much more needs to be done. “Certainly, the current dependence on groundwater is unsustainable,” she said.

If a raw material like water can be trimmed from a production process, it could even boost company profits. ▪ Learn about water conservation activities at your children’s schools and other community groups, and offer to help. Other responses included increased groundwater extraction and use, water conservation, more-extensive irrigation and more infrastructure for conveyance, storage, wastewater re-use and brackish-water desalination. But treating this wastewater is a promising and abundant water source that is untapped in most communities, and often cheaper than other new water supplies. Today, the state has one of the world’s most engineered and diversified water systems, including six aqueduct networks more than 2,000 kilometres long and in excess of 1,400 dams.

And it may actually be cleaner than the water you’re drinking now. ▪ Install a showerhead with an on-off valve and switch to a three-minute “Navy” shower. (One minute soak, turn off water while you soap up/shampoo, one minute rinse). Because California’s land-use legacies — of rapid urbanization, wetland and floodplain development and more-dense forests — have exacerbated the environmental impacts of drought, over the past century, natural habitats have shrunk and been deprived of water diverted to meet human needs. A high-efficiency toilet can save 19 gallons per person per day; dishwasher, up to eight gallons per load; clothes washer, 16 gallons per load. ▪ Replace your irrigation timer with a “smart controller,” which sets watering times based on soil moisture and weather.

Reduced stream flow and snow melt in warm dry periods8 further diminish natural groundwater and stream flow in a cycle that compromises habitats for native fish, including delta smelt and salmon6, 8. The reductions in water diversions in 2012–13 to protect endangered species in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta region have meant less water for urban and agricultural users.

In July, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that, if it becomes law, will offer some drought relief to Californian farmers and growers at the cost of protecting endangered fish. Observations and climate projections indicate that California’s climate is warming, with more winter rainfall instead of snow, earlier snow melt and decreases in spring and summer stream flows8. Climate and hydrological scientists focus on large-scale phenomena and give little attention to local conditions and impacts, such as reduced economic production or depletion of local groundwater. Rather than responding to crises, the state needs a proactive and long-term drought-management plan that considers all sectors, including the environment.

Demand management, conservation, public outreach, technological innovation for water conservation and more-flexible market-based solutions and infrastructure adaptation are fundamental to responding to increased demands and climate-change stress in the future. For example, Australia’s 1997–2009 Millennium Drought triggered changes in public perception and policy reforms, water demand and other environmental management strategies10.

Breakthroughs in drought management, adaptation, mitigation, resilience assessment and prediction demand the close collaboration of scientists, policymakers and decision-makers. Federal and state agencies should develop long-term research programmes to address key science challenges and the realization of innovative technologies. Explorations of drought must go beyond supply issues to encompass water demands (including environmental needs), water-storage infrastructure, adaptability, policy and feedback between human actions and climate as a complex system.

Decision-makers should update drought-preparation strategies given that combined demand growth and reduced water supplies make it more difficult to recover after droughts. Water-policy reforms and the establishment of water entitlements for environmental protection during the Millennium Drought are examples of successful adaptation plans.

Policymakers should establish environmental water entitlements and drought plans, based on understanding water needs for ecosystems and trade-offs between endangered species and crucial water uses. This should include emergency actions for key river segments and refuge habitats, including evacuation and captive breeding to avoid extinction of endangered species.

Water and environment managers must reconcile environmental water supplies with economic water uses, and develop adaptive plans for future conditions.

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