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Joe Guzzardi: California needs a realistic strategy to use less water

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Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014 10:39 pm

Thirty years have passed since the Academy Award winning movie “Chinatown” revisited California’s infamous Water Wars between Los Angeles and farmers in the state’s eastern Owens Valley. To this day, water and how to use it remains a controversial but critical debate, which the current three-year-long drought has exacerbated.

As Californians enjoy the summer months, how to manage water in face of its increasing scarcity amidst growing population and less rain fall is essential.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, updated weekly, all of California is under at least severe drought conditions, with one-third of the state — including the San Joaquin Valley — listed as exceptionally at risk. The 33 percent in the exceptional category is the highest since 2000, when the Drought Monitor first published its findings. California is also experiencing the hottest year in its history, with temperatures averaging 5 degrees above normal and anticipated to remain above normal for at least the next three months.

Raising awareness of what scientists call our “water footprint” is the first step Californians must take. The water footprint accounts for the total volume of freshwater used to produce the goods and services we consume, and represents the most holistic way Californians can identify and eliminate wasteful water habits.

Californians, like other American consumers, are addicted to water and use, either directly or indirectly, about 2,000 gallons of water daily, twice the global average.

The State Water Resources Control Board anticipates setting tighter, mandatory restrictions on outdoor residential use and levying stiff fines up to $500 for violating the new policy, which they’ll introduce next Tuesday, to will take effect in August. The control board predicts that by banning wasteful lawn watering, car washing and sidewalk spraying, California could save enough water to supply more than 3.5 million people for a year. Local police will be empowered to enforce the regulations.

Previously imposed restrictions resulted in only a 5 percent water usage reduction, far below Gov. Jerry Brown’s hoped for 20 percent.

The Public Policy Institute of California recently analyzed what might realistically be expected from conservation measures. While acknowledging that new technology and changing attitudes toward water uses have already yielded long-term declines in per capita consumption, the prediction which many environmentalists make that urban and farm conservation can create as much as 10 million acre-feet of new water simply aren’t credible, the PPIC determined.

PPIC contends that conservation doesn’t necessarily yield new water, because saved water is already reused, particularly in agriculture. Worldwide studies analyzed by PPIC showed that increased irrigation efficiency isn’t as likely to decrease net water use, but to instead encourage more planting more crops.

The conclusion PPIC reached is that the only way to achieve the level environmentalists aspire to would be to fallow millions of acres of farmland, hardly viable in California.

Nevertheless, since 1990 and despite the addition of millions of new California residents, reductions in urban per capita water usage has remained steady at about 8.5 million acre-feet annually, an encouraging trend, but one that without continued efforts by concerned Californians will not be sustainable.

Joe Guzzardi is a Los Angeles native who grew up when the state’s population was about 10 million, nearly 30 million fewer people than today. Joe retired from the Lodi Adult School in 2008. Contact him at

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