Chris Averill

In April, I blogged about water restriction legislation in California and whether the target reduction of usage was realistic and achievable. The targets focused on reducing residential water consumption by 25 percent, even though agriculture accounts for approximately 80 percent of the water consumption in California. The legislation went into effect on June 1, but will it be enough to combat California’s severe drought?

The restrictions on residential consumption resulted in a 27 percent decrease of water usage statewide for the month of June, exceeding the target reduction rate of 25 percent. In order to achieve this, local Californian water agencies were given the authority to enforce their own restrictions, but were given targets based on their current rates of water usage. 265 out of 405 agencies met or nearly met their conservation targets and issued 5 times more penalties to customers in June than in May, which corresponds to enforcement of the water restrictions.

While it appears that residential water targets are being achieved, the recent wildfires underscore the possibility that more water cutbacks may be necessary. The increase in wildfires, caused by drought and dry forests, have forced firefighters to use alternative resources and methods to control fires from spreading. Firefighters may source water from reservoirs instead of groundwater, or increase the use of dirt, flame retardants, or controlled burns.

Because the 25 percent reduction target for residential water use has already been exceeded, increased focus on residential cuts is unlikely to be successful. Instead, the state may need to look towards cuts to agricultural and/or commercial water use in order to prevent future water shortages.  In May, about 400 farmers agreed to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 25 percent to avoid even higher restrictions later in the growing season. Golf courses have also begun to do their part by limiting the number of days in a week that their courses are watered or by reducing their overall consumption by 25 percent, as evidenced by the brown grass or the desert landscaping that has been installed in many courses.

Other western states that also contend with severe droughts have had less drastic water restrictions in place for several years, and as a result have not had to push for 25 percent cuts. Had California’s water conservation efforts started earlier, the state likely would have required less drastic cuts in such a short period of time while still achieving the same goals. California’s current drought further highlights how taking small steps over the long-run can reduce environmental impacts without as significant of an impact on normal operations.

Keywords: Climate Change