February 27, 2014
By Nancy Ross, Communications Director
The California drought has everyone wondering what we can do. Well, we can’t make it rain. But we can make an effort to understand the reality of water shortage, to recognize how we individually can make an impact, and to think about how yesterday’s water policy and pricing is going to have to change to serve us in a new reality of more frequent and more severe drought. And we can get on board with that instead of whining about it!
The fact is that for a great majority of us in the cities, “drought” hasn’t hit us that hard except that we miss those cozy rainy days curled up with a book. I don’t have a lawn; I don’t have a garden. I never wash my car anyway (it’s the environmentally responsible choice for those of us with 13-year-old-high-mileage junkers!). Water restrictions have not been mandatory where I live. But this bubble of oblivion can’t last, first of all, because that is not how to be a good citizen or a good neighbor, and second of all, because when the water situation is worse, even the apartment-dwelling urbanite is going to see the effects, both in water availability and in the pocketbook.
A new NRDC poll released last week found that the vast majority of California voters rank drought as the most critical issue facing the state and want action. More than 90% agree that all Californians need to do their part to conserve water now, and 77% of voters would be willing to pay more on their water bill in order to increase sustainable local water supplies. When have that many Californians ever agreed on anything?
It’s a good sign! It is important for us to value our water this way, and to be informed about what the implications of the drought are and how we can act responsibly as consumers, stewards, and tax-paying voters. And if my water bill is less than my cell phone bill and my cable television bill, and I am inclined to complain about paying for the privilege of having reliable, clean water in my glass at the turn of a tap… perhaps I should reconsider my priorities!
Want to understand more about what the drought means? Many organizations are putting out very clear, important information. The Pacific Institute has a tremendous set of publications on drought, California water policy, strategies for improving efficiency and water use, desalination, and much more. For example, we offer information on the impacts of the 2007-2009 drought, how to design smarter water rates in this “new normal” era, and a calculator to help evaluate your personal water use (WECalc – Your Home Water-Energy-Climate Calculator).
Circle of Blue has made the severity of the current drought a telling and compelling visual with “California Drought in Motion” and has provided in-depth drought reporting in their Choke Point: Central Valley series.
The Association of California Water Agencies has the Save Our Water website with tips on what individuals can do. Links to these resources and many more are available on the Pacific Institute’s new website www.californiadrought.org. We created this site because “responding to the drought is responding to a ‘new normal’ water future with climate change, and an opportunity to move to more sustainable water use and water policy for California.”
Is there ever going to be an El Niño rainy season again in California? Probably. But there are also going to be more, and more severe, droughts, with a more uncertain future for California. We need to pay attention and to know about our water, our lack of water, and what we can do about it.
Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.