California has finally emerged from its historic five-year drought, but in order to ensure its future water security, the state must make a strong commitment to more intelligent water management.
In a May 2014 report, the United States Government Accountability Office delivered some concerning news: “40 of 50 state water managers expect shortages in some portion of their states under average conditions in the [coming] 10 years.”
This less-than-rosy outlook has proven to be quite justified, as water insecurity issues have plagued a number of states in the three years since the report. Nowhere has this been truer than in California, which only recently emerged from an historic drought that began all the way back in 2011.
Around this time, California experienced one of its driest three-year spells on record which, combined with historically high temperatures, resulted in dangerously low snowpacks. Indeed, when surveyed in April 2015, the Sierra Nevada snowpack — whose runoff accounts for roughly 30% of California’s water supply every year — was effectively nonexistent.
In response to progressively dire conditions, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January 2014, mandating that overall water consumption be reduced by 25% by March 2016. Different localities took different approaches to conservation — some offered incentives to replace lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping, some forbid the use of potable water for irrigation purposes, some passed strict regulations on various plumbing products like toilets and faucets — but all told, Californians managed to reduce their water use by more than 22% between June 2015 and January 2017.
A Return to Normalcy
As a result, in early April, Governor Brown issued an executive order lifting the state of emergency for all counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolumne. According to the order, “Water content in California’s mountain snowpack is 164% of the season average…Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s principal reservoir, is 101% of average, [and] Lake Shasta, the federal Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir, is at 110% of average.”
Despite rescinding the strictest stipulations of the state’s emergency efforts, Governor Brown was adamant that Californians must make a habit of conservation-minded water use. “Our changing climate requires California to continue to adopt and adhere to permanent changes to use water more wisely and to prepare for more frequent and persistent periods of limited water supply,” the order reads.
To this end, Governor Brown left an earlier executive order, “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life,” largely intact. Per this order — originally issued in May 2016 — the California Water Code places permanent prohibitions on wasteful practices like hosing off sidewalks and driveways, using non-recirculated water in fountains, and watering lawns sooner than 48 hours after measurable precipitation.
Beware the Early Warning Signs
As things stand, most of California finds itself on a tentatively sustainable trajectory. Since 2013, urban residential water use has dropped between 20% and 26% in major urban areas like Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, and the Greater Bay Area. In the Santa Clara Valley Water District alone, “cash-for-grass” incentive programs “have resulted in more than 10 million square feet of conversions to low-water using landscapes.”
In certain areas, however, there are already signs that water conservation efforts are beginning to lose ground. For instance, in the past year, there have been substantial spikes in per capita water use in Fresno, Palo Alto, and Brentwood. In Banning, a small city in Riverside County, per capita water use has risen from 76 gallons per day in 2016 to 140 gallons per day as of June 2017, well on its way to the 190 gallon per day average of 2014.
Statewide, while Californians were using roughly 25% less water in the summer of 2015 — the peak of the drought — than in 2013, as of June, water consumption had crept up to around 83% of 2013 levels. This is not a disaster in and of itself, but stakeholders would be wise to keep an eye on this trend moving forward.
Using Cutting-Edge Technology to Pursue Long-Term Conservation
Fortunately, Governor Brown’s April executive order provides the state government and other key stakeholders with guidance on how to combat the slackening of water conservation efforts. “The Water Board and Department [of Water Resources] shall continue to direct actions to minimize water system leaks that waste large amounts of water…[and] shall prioritize local projects that reduce leaks and other water system losses,” the order reads.
Further, “The Water Board and the Department [of Water Resources] shall continue to take actions to direct urban and agricultural water suppliers to accelerate their data collection, improve water system management, and prioritize capital projects to reduce water waste.”
With these priorities in mind, Californians will find a lot to like in the intelligent, Internet of Things-enabled water management solution from WINT. The WINT water intelligence solution provides users with real-time water readings, predictive analytics, and comprehensive reports on things like fixture consumption and leaks. Our intuitive, hands-on operational dashboard and remote water shutoff capabilities empower property owners and other water management stakeholders to achieve comprehensive control over everything that occurs across their entire water infrastructure.
What’s more, the WINT Cloud will provide users with water consumption and efficiency data across industry- and region-specific crosstabs, enabling the kind of broad-based analyses that are needed to maintain a major conservation movement like California’s.
Ultimately, long-term water conservation efforts — in California and elsewhere — take strong government leadership and widespread popular buy-in. Both are made easier the work of measuring and reducing consumption is powered by cutting-edge water intelligence tools.