After a season of normal rainfall, both state and local water regulators are poised to cancel the range of use regulations put in place during the past two years. Pointing to reservoirs now almost fully-filled, water agencies here in Northern California – having just raised water rates to compensate for the reduced billings during the drought – are backing off. We believe this is short-sighted and foolish; times of ample water are precisely when progress on long-term solutions can be implemented.
A relaxing of conservation measures of Russian River water, the water the bulk of urban Sonoma Valley uses, will send a mixed message to citizens with wells who use groundwater. The Sonoma Valley groundwater “budget” is still in the red. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act has not been canceled. Returning to “normal” use scenarios means we will use too much water.
We have become a wasteful, throwaway society in most every way, including water. If scientists are correct about climate change, and nearly 100% are in agreement at this point, weather is going to get much warmer in the future, and in California, dryer. This warming is happening faster than anyone predicted, and each passing month sets new high temperature records. Setting policy based on one-year’s rainfall is, therefore, simply foolish, and repeats the pattern of our worst habits of short-term thinking.
During the gas crisis of the 1970s, prices rose to previously unheard of levels. People did not like it, but they adapted. When gasoline again became plentiful, the prices dropped and an opportunity for government to capture revenue for road and bridge improvements by raising taxes was lost. Imagine our highways, bridges and roads had billions been available for replacement and repair; instead, we now have an aging infrastructure crisis.
Water is also dependent upon infrastructure. Will we drop the rates now that the drought has “eased” or will the increased revenues allow necessary improvements and repairs to be made?
And will the public now revert to wasteful water use? 50% of residential water is consumed by irrigation of lawns and ornamental plants. Flush toilets and long showers use plenty more. Are we going to wait until the water crisis returns to try again to establish habits that conserve water? We hope not, but our faith is wavering. The City of Sonoma is dead last in water conservation in Sonoma County; now is an opportunity to improve our record but not if we return to a pattern of profligate use.
The challenge of climate change is immediate, and while it may seem that any individual effort pales in comparison to society’s use of water, the fact is each drop saved can make a difference. Society is nothing more than the collective actions of individuals, and despite how large and intractable problems appear individual actions actually matter.
We urge state and regional water agencies, and local water districts, to implement long-term approaches and solutions rather than politically popular, short-term approaches. People have reduced their water use, and we should continue to encourage and support that behavior. Long term water conservation is the new normal, and it would be a serious mistake to convey that now is the time to return to “business as usual.”
SUN Editorial Board