California tightens water restrictions amid historic drought

California tightens water restrictions amid historic drought

Californians are looking for ways to conserve water as they enter a fourth year of severe drought.

The California State Water Resources Control Board voted Tuesday to expand emergency regulations to protect its remaining water supplies.

The Golden State is approaching the end of its rainy season, December through April, with record-low rainfall and its worst drought in recorded history.

“If conditions continue as they are likely to over the next two weeks, we’ll have less than half of the previous lowest reading,” Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources, told Yahoo News.

Most years, California can rely on that precipitation for 30 percent of its summer and fall water, he said. “There is going to be almost nothing this year, which is pretty alarming.”

Government regulations

“Emergency regulations only have a shelf life of 270 days. The regulations passed in July of 2014 would have expired on April 25 of this year. [But] it is anticipated that the board will act,” George Kostyrko, a spokesman for the board, said in an interview with Yahoo News.

As before, urban water customers will not be able to overwater, use their sprinklers in the rain or wash off sidewalks with water. Outdoor landscape watering is prohibited within 48 hours of rain.

The board is starting to collect data on what kinds of fines or actions have been taken against customers who have flouted the rules.

According to the Associated Press, the majority of local water departments had been unwilling to discipline offenders.

New regulations say that large water providers must have contingency plans in case of emergencies.

Also, restaurants will not be allowed to provide patrons with water unless they ask for a glass. Hotels will be required to put up placards in customers’ rooms giving them the option to forgo having their towels and linens cleaned.

“It is our understanding that the restaurant and hospitality industries have been understanding and cooperative in water conservation,” Kostyrko said. “This action has been undertaken by many restaurants and bars, but it’s not throughout.”

Conservation at home

The Association of California Water Agencies says that a new poll shows that some 90 percent of Californians are willing to make significant changes to conserve water.

“They are sort of commonsensical. But at the same time, a lot of people continue to water their lawns regardless of whether it rained just a couple days ago,” Carlson said.

Save Our Water, a group dedicated to helping Californians conserve water, suggests making small changes in one’s everyday life to cut back on water consumption.

These tips include soaking pots and pans instead of letting the water run while cleaning the dishes, and turning off the water while shaving or brushing one’s teeth.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends that residents test their toilets to make sure they do not leak, purchase pool covers to limit evaporation and opt for a car wash rather than wash their cars by hand, among other things.

Plant-based diets

Some Californians are cutting back on their meat consumption to help alleviate the drought.

Environmentalist Kip Andersen argues that animal agriculture is responsible for more water consumption than any other industry and that following a plant-based diet would help more than any other approach.

“Everything we do at home — from showering to watering plants — is just 5 percent of water consumption, whereas animal agriculture is 55 percent,” he told Yahoo News.

Andersen, who co-directed the environmental documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” maintains that the world’s leading environmental groups are afraid to discuss the extent to which animal agriculture is responsible for pollution and water consumption.

“One single hamburger is 660 gallons. That’s the equivalent of showering two entire months,” he said. He was referencing all the water a cow needs throughout its life. That includes the water it drinks, as well as the water used to grow its feed and keep its stable clean.

One year of water left?

Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA, wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times saying that the state has roughly one year of water left in its reservoirs.

“California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain,” he wrote.

Famiglietti, who is also an Earth system science professor at the University of California, Irvine, insisted that California needs a “transparent and forward-looking process.”

The shocking claim spread across the Internet quickly, getting many write-ups from many news sites.

Nancy Vogel, a spokesperson for the California Department of Water Resources, thinks the one-year estimate is exaggerated. “It’s absurd, ridiculous. It gives people the impression that in 365 days their faucets will dry up. That’s not at all the case,” she said in an interview with Yahoo News. “Yes, we are in our fourth straight year of drought, but the state is not going to run out of water in a year.”

Vogel said that California will incur environmental and economic harm but lamented that all those headlines have led its residents to think that water will stop running in their houses in March 2016, which she said is not true.

“The state and local water districts act conservatively and always try to get a cushion of water in case the year is dry,” she said.