California is experiencing a water crisis, but use is on the rise. Defenders say officials are focusing on the wrong things


California is facing a crisis. Not only her lockers are already there very low levels Because relentless droughtresidents and businesses across the state are also using more water now than they did in seven years, despite Governor Gavin Newsom’s efforts to encourage the exact opposite.

Newsom appealed to residents and businesses to cut their water consumption by 15%. But in March, urban water use was up 19% compared to March 2020, the year the current drought began. It was the highest water consumption in March since 2015 State Water Resources Monitoring Board reported earlier this week.

Part of the problem is that the file The urgency of the crisis Does not penetrate ca. Messages about water conservation vary across authorities and jurisdictions, so people don’t have a clear idea of ​​what applies to whom. And they certainly don’t have a concrete understanding of the amount of the 15% reduction in relation to their own use.

Kelsey Hinton, Director of Communications at Community Water CenterUrban communities – which usually get water from state reservoirs – don’t seem to understand the severity of drought the way rural communities do, said a group that advocates for affordable, clean water, where water can literally stop flowing out of the tap the moment it comes out of the tap. Groundwater reserves are depleted.

“In our work every day, people feel how serious this is, and they know we need to work towards finding real solutions to address the ongoing drought,” Hinton told CNN. “But then living in Sacramento, you don’t see the same urgency here because we don’t depend on groundwater and scarce resources in the same way that these communities depend on.”

But human rights advocates say government officials are also focusing on the wrong approach. They say voluntary water cuts to housing is not the answer, and that businesses and industries that use the vast majority of the state’s water should be restricted.

“Water misuse in businesses needs to be addressed or any other measures will be irrelevant,” said Jessica Gabel, a spokeswoman for Food & Water Watch.

“The perception in California now is that it’s no longer a secret that drought is linked to climate change,” Gabel told CNN. “But there has been no effort to reduce the industries that use the most water, which are incidentally the industries that also send out the most emissions that are fueling the climate crisis.”

Most of the sudden rise in water use in March came from Southern California water jurisdictions. Use in the south coast Hydrological Zone, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego County, is up 27% compared to March 2020, for example, according to data provided by the state’s water authority. Only the North Coast region saved water in March, reducing about 4.3% of its use.

Edward Ortiz, a spokesperson for the state’s Water Resources Control Board, said March was a major setback for the governor’s water goals.

“This is a worrying development in our response to drought as a country,” Ortiz told CNN. “Making water conservation a lifestyle is one way Californians can respond to these conditions. Saving water should be a practice whatever the weather.”

He said Californians “need to redouble efforts to conserve water in and out of our homes and businesses.”

Last month, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced The most severe water restriction for residents and businesses in counties around Los Angeles, with the goal of reducing water use by at least 35%. From June 1, outdoor water use will be limited to one day per week.

Kern County Water Field Sprinklers.

But community advocates say residents are questioning whether big water users are also facing the same pressure and painful decisions to conserve it — i.e. farming that requires a lot of water (things like almonds, alfalfa, avocados, and tomatoes) or fracking, where tens of millions of gallons of gallons of water can be used. Water to crack a single fossil fuel well.

Gabel said that while every little part matters, repeated calls for people to save water can “seem far-fetched at best and potentially neglected,” since industries that can drastically reduce the excess amount of water allocated to them are rarely held accountable. .

Reducing residential water use is like telling people that recycling can save the planet, said Amanda Starbuck, director of research at Food & Water Watch. Although it is a purposeful act, she said it will not affect the crisis in general.

“It’s kind of insulting to blame the use of housing for these crises,” Starbuck told CNN. “It’s just a small piece of the overall consumption. It’s a much bigger problem, and we really need to start getting these big industries that are consuming a lot of water during this time of drought.”

A spokesperson for Newsom’s office told CNN that local water agencies have set new goals since March that will result in less use — including restricting outdoor irrigation — and will make more decisions before the state assembly this month.

“We hope that these actions will contribute significantly to the state’s overall water reduction goals, as outdoor irrigation is one of the largest individual users of water,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson also referred to the additional funding for water resilience that the governor announced in his budget proposal on Friday. This funding is part of the $47 billion earmarked to address the effects of the state’s climate crisis.

“By injecting additional funding, we will be able to more effectively reach Californians on the need to conserve water along with the largest water-saving actions they can take, and support local water districts in responding to the drought emergency,” the spokesperson said. .

While most talk about water focuses on urban use, Hinton said rural communities live with the daily worry that the water will stop flowing.

“The bigger story, at least for us, is when we’re in the middle of a drought like this, it’s not just short periods of showers and off-water use outdoors for our families,” Hinton told CNN. “Our families are worried that their water will stop working together.”

These are communities that do not rely on reservoirs – where great emphasis has been placed on reaching very low levels – but instead use private groundwater wells.

The biggest concern is that during extremely arid conditions, groundwater levels in the state decline while more is withdrawn for agriculture and other uses.

“There is an urgent need with the families we are working with, because they know what happened before,” she said. “We have people whose wells have dried up since the last drought who still cannot afford to deepen them or call for a long-term solution.”

pungent heat wavesis getting worse drought and devastating Forest fires It has plagued the West in recent years. As these vivid images of the climate crisis emerge, Hinton believes the state needs to prioritize the water needs of individuals over industry.

“Climate change has forever made drought a reality for us, and now, that’s something we have to deal with as a country,” Hinton said. “The more we can accept that and be proactive, the less we will continually react to these situations in which entire communities are drying up or urban areas have to cut water to such an extent because we have already overused what was available to us.”