In summary

We must bolster drought resilience, and that starts with all Californians being “water wise” — understanding where water comes from and what they can do to preserve this precious resource.

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By Steve Welch

Steve Welch is the general manager of the Contra Costa Water District, a California Urban Water Agencies member.

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Sandy Kerl, Special to CalMatters

Sandy Kerl is the general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, a California Urban Water Agencies member.

All Californians play a role in preserving and enhancing our water supplies for a drought-resilient future. California again is in a familiar state of drought, although not all communities are affected equally. Some regions are in extreme water shortage; others are not. We must address these differences. That starts with all Californians understanding where their water comes from and what they can do to use it wisely.

The California Urban Water Agencies, an association of 11 of California’s largest urban water suppliers, know what it takes to preserve this precious resource. Water delivered by member agencies supports two-thirds of California’s population, contributing to the state’s $3 trillion economy and helping our communities thrive.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 28 executive order and subsequent emergency regulation adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board, acknowledge lessons and progress since the last drought in 2015, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state’s first 25% conservation mandate. The state water board’s new rule calls for locally driven actions to save water, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. To jump-start these efforts, the state budget includes significant investments in near-term drought response and water conservation, on top of the governor’s existing commitment to invest $5.2 billion over three years on drought planning and climate resilience initiatives.

Water agencies now are required to prepare and submit a detailed plan of actions they will take in a time when water is in short supply. Newsom’s approach leverages these tools, mandating that water suppliers activate their plans and implement locally appropriate measures — which our 11 member agencies have done. The success of these measures, however, depends on water users doing their part.

Conservation is crucial to every agency’s drought plan. All Californians must use water wisely, and many already do. Customers in our agencies’ service areas have reduced water use, on average, by 40% per person since 1990, and as much as 50% in some areas. Many “super savers” have replaced their lawn with drought-friendly landscape, for example, or swapped out old appliances for more efficient ones.

But collectively, we must do more. 

That’s why our agencies provide water-saving tools and resources for residents and businesses, such as rebates for landscape retrofits and water-efficient fixtures, free water-saving devices, and free workshops and water audits. Many agencies recently have expanded these rebates and programs and are counting on customers to take the next step. If you haven’t yet explored these options to reduce your water use, now is the time.

The other half of the equation is bolstering our supplies — for today’s drought and for the future. Our 11 agencies and their ratepayers have invested in diverse, drought-resilient local supplies, such as water reuse, storage and desalination, both locally and through regional partnerships. Long-term drought resilience requires further investments and public support for water supply reliability projects, particularly as we adapt to a changing climate. State and federal funding for water infrastructure helps to keep water rates low for local ratepayers and ensures that water is affordable and accessible for all. 

Now we look to you, our communities, to rise to the occasion. Success should not be judged solely on our ability to achieve a certain percent reduction in water use. It must be judged by how all Californians are taking the actions they can to step up their water savings.

This isn’t our first drought; it won’t be the last. We must accept dry conditions as our new reality and work together to conserve more and strengthen the reliability of California’s water supply for the future.

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