SACRAMENTO– The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) should adjust current conservation targets to recognize the effects of climate on water use, the Regional Water Authority (RWA) and local water providers are urging the State Water Board in letters submitted this week.
The letters were sent ahead of a December 7 meeting during which the State Water Board will consider potential changes to mandatory water conservation targets should the drought continue into 2016. Several local elected officials and water industry leaders plan to make comments at the meeting.
The Sacramento region is currently saddled with some of the highest conservation targets in the state, which range from 8 to 36 percent. More than a dozen Sacramento area water providers are required to conserve 32 percent or more June 2015 through February 2016 compared to the same period in 2013. Customers in the region have responded by reducing water use by 33 percent during June through October this year compared to 2013. This follows a nearly 20 percent reduction under voluntary conservation in 2014, and a longer-term reduction of 20 percent in the region’s per-capita water use in the decade leading up to 2013.
But that savings has come at a cost and has led to conditions that are harming the trees that make up our urban forests, RWA Executive Director John Woodling writes. “The impact on our urban forest as a result of the extreme savings imposed by these regulations will be a sad legacy that would extend far beyond this current drought, but this outcome can be avoided.”
Instead, RWA and its two dozen member water providers in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Yolo and Sutter counties say targets should be adjusted for climate, using data on the water needs of plants published by the California Department of Water Resources.
“A low-water use landscape still requires more water to survive in hotter, drier areas of the state when compared to cooler, wetter areas. More water doesn’t necessarily correspond to waste,” writes City of Sacramento Director of Utilities Bill Busath. “Sacramento’s priceless urban canopies are being severely stressed because residents and the City Government are stepping up to meet mandated conservation goals. Some trees have been lost and many more are in danger.”
In addition to requesting an adjustment for climate, RWA and local water providers are also asking the State Water Board to provide credit to communities that have already developed drought-resilient supplies such as recycled water and conjunctive use programs (the system of saving surface water underground during wet years for use during dry periods).
“Roseville made a commitment toward diversifying its water portfolio decades ago,” Roseville Vice Mayor Susan Rohan will tell the State Water Board on Monday. “An example of this is our longstanding recycled water program that began in the 1990s and has since grown to deliver 1 billion gallons of recycled water annually. Recognizing local investments like our recycled water program is an important signal to local agencies and serves as an incentive for future local investments in drought resiliency.”
Moreover, regulations must be flexible and responsive to conditions through the winter and spring of 2016. “It is not possible to know in January just how wet conditions will be by April,” writes Placer County Water Agency General Manager Einar Maisch, advising that the State Water Board wait as long as possible to extend conservation targets. “Without direct evidence of an extreme ongoing drought, it will be very difficult to drive customer behavior to continue to achieve high water conservation targets. Loss of the good faith of our residents will have a negative impact on both short- and long-term water efficiency improvements.”
The Regional Water Authority’s letter and proposal for adjusting targets for climate is available at RWA’s Web site at rwah2o.org.
About the Regional Water Authority: RWA is a joint powers authority representing two dozen water providers and affiliates in the greater Sacramento area. Its primary mission is to help its members protect and enhance the reliability, availability, affordability and quality of water resources.