Mark Gold writes: Summer is officially here. The solstice has come and gone. And the water supply news in California is moving from dire to Def-Com 5. In the latest National Weather Service drought assessment, the entire state is in a severe drought and over a third of the state--central California and part of the San Joaquin Valley--is in an exceptional drought. And yes, exceptional is a lot worse than severe.
In other drought news, the results of a State Water Board survey of 270 out of 443 water agencies demonstrated that Governor Jerry Brown's call for 20 percent voluntary water conservation was largely ineffective from January to May. During that time, Californians reduced their water use by only 5 percent compared to a three year average of water use during the same time period from 2011 to 2013. I'm sure most people aren't surprised that the Caltrans freeway signs that say, "Serious Drought - Help Save Water!" aren't getting us to the needed 20 precent goal. Voluntary water conservation just doesn't work as well as mandates and economic incentives.
Meanwhile, debates over a state water bond continue. The version that got the most media play last week was a $10.5 billion bond proposal from state Senator Lois Wolk. Time is running out for the legislature to pick a water bond package in time to appear on the November ballot. Now that the state budget has been approved, look for Governor Brown to start making it known what he'd like to see in a water bond.
Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pacific Institute, and Robert Wilkinson, a professor of water policy at UC Santa Barbara, teamed up to propose an integrated approach to solving California's water crisis: "The Untapped Potential of California's Water Supply." Through a common sense combination of urban water efficiency, agricultural water efficiency, increased water recycling, and stormwater capture and infiltration, they estimated that the state can save between 10.8 and 13.7 million acre feet of water per year. That's about a quarter of the state's annual water needs and more than enough to meet the approximately 9.1 million acre feet a year in demand from California cities. The timing of the report should inform the legislature's decision on where to strategically invest limited dollars to move California to a more sustainable water management future.
With all of the bad news surrounding the drought, there actually is a silver lining for the tens of millions of people who visit California's beaches every summer. Come on in, the water is fine! With such a dry year, many stormdrains aren't even discharging to the beach. And many coastal streams and creeks have dried up for the summer already. As a result, on last week's Heal the Bay Beach Report Card, only three of 93 beaches in Los Angeles County have poor grades--Santa Monica Pier, Mothers Beach in Marina del Rey, and Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. In fact, with less than 10 inches of rainfall over the last two years in Southern California, around 90 percent of our beaches received A's during dry weather in 2013 and 2014. So if you don't want to think about our water crisis, you can always enjoy a day at the beach this summer, because it certainly won't rain between now and the start of the fall.
Photo courtesy of Caltrans.