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In Response to Ongoing Droughts, California Senate Votes to Limit Our Water

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Each time we have some rainfall in the Bay Area, I always have a small glimmer of hope that we could be out of drought season. Is California still in a drought? The short answer is that we may always be in one. Knowing the California drought is likely here to stay, our state government is looking to curb our water usage.

The California Senate voted 28-9 this past week to lower the usage to 47 gallons per person per day starting in 2025. Then, in 2030, lowering the usage standard to 42 gallons. Effectively, our state government is actually looking ahead and recognizing we need to start to put stricter standards in place that recognize the climate crisis and a desperate need for change. Although this bill is not yet a law, the sizable vote in the state senate means it has a good chance of being passed by the Assembly.

Our Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked people to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 15%, but so far residents have been slow to meet that goal.

Receded water levels in extreme drought conditions. (Photo by richdubose0/Pixabay)

It’s been 3 dry years. We have had a wetter year than in the past but it’s not enough. According to Accuweather, “After a surplus of precipitation in December, rain and snow have been at a premium in California through the first part of 2022. The entire state is reporting at least moderate drought, with over 95% of the state in severe drought. Almost half of the Golden State, 47% to be precise, is in an extreme drought.”

If you want an even more grim picture of how short we are on the water, you can always look towards our reservoirs. While our closest reservoir (Folsom) states 68% capacity, that’s a far cry from its usual average of 97%.

Current Reservoir Conditions - source CA.gov - photo from Accuweather

Current Reservoir Conditions – source CA.gov – photo from Accuweather

One way that our state government is trying to tackle the California drought is to lower the water usage standard. Currently, households are allowed 55-gallons per person per day in your household. But the average household is only using 48 gallons per person per day.

A study by state regulators found the median indoor residential water use in California was 48 gallons (181 liters) per person per day, or well below the current standard. They recommended state lawmakers lower the standard to encourage more conservation as droughts become more frequent and more severe because of climate change,” according to this article by SFGate.


What does this new standard mean for us? SFGate predicts, “some water agencies could choose to charge higher rates for people who use too much water. But most agencies will likely focus on replacing aging pipes that leak less.” Since many of us are already really drought and water conscience, we may not notice this change at all.

The drought and how we got here goes back before anyone even lived here. In need of some inspiration, I found an amazing book that helped me understand the history of water in our state. It’s filled with amazing art and illustrations as well as information that will help you understand this complex issue. Local naturalist Obi Kaufman wrote “The State of Water: Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource” in 2019 and it’s become one of my go-to suggestions when folks ask me, “How did we get here? How do we get out of this mess”.

well-loved books by Obi Kaufmann

Well-loved books by naturalist and artist Obi Kaufmann – photo from their website

Conservation efforts, like the one the state is trying to pass, are mandatory if we want to get out of this drought and build a more sustainable future for our survival. “Offering nine perspectives to illustrate the most pressing challenges facing California’s water infrastructure, from dams to species revitalization, Kaufmann reveals pragmatic yet inspiring solutions to how water in the West can continue to support agriculture, municipalities, and the environment,” from the book’s synopsis on the Hayday website.

In short, California is in an extreme drought, and we should expect that we might always be in one. We can help the California drought together but we may not be able to fix the situation entirely. For me, I try to plant things that don’t need much water, watch my water usage, and just try my best to use as many water-saving tactics around my house as possible. But I don’t think that’s enough. We do need to teach the next generations about water conservation and tips on how to save water at home.

Here are some drought hacks from the Save Our Water site:

  • Fix water leaks
  • Challenge yourself to a 5-minute shower
  • Fill your tubs halfway when taking a bath.
  • Recycle water from the shower to water your garden by putting a bucket in the shower with you
  • Make sure your dishes and clothes are being washed in a full load so you’re running your washers less frequently.
  • Install an Aerator on your facets
  • Make sure you have high-efficiency toilets
  • Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth or shaving

view of rolling hills of California

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.

2 Comments

  1. Lewis
    April 23, 2022 at 2:24 pm — Reply

    Isn’t like some crazy high percentage of the water in California used by industry and farming? I think working to reduce that water usage would probably have a much larger impact than making some weird rule about individual water consumption.

  2. Smesq
    April 29, 2022 at 6:55 pm — Reply

    Lewis- Yes!!! The Wonderful Company, based in Los Banos (I understand), owns and uses more water than the entire city of Los Angeles for growing pomegranates and pistachios. They privately own the water. Take a drive down I-5. All that water is privately owned by the Resnick family. There’s a documentary coming out by a filmmaker, Yasha Levine, called “Oligarch Valley”. He’s written about it. Check him out.

    https://yashalevine.com/books/oligarch-valley

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