The Water Situation Is Bad, and Californians Are Barely Cutting Their Consumption

Amid a historic drought and an appeal to use 15 percent less water, SoCal only cut its consumption by .1 percent year over year in July

Despite Governor Gavin Newsom kicking off the summer by begging Californians to use 15 percent less water thanks to a drought state of emergency, water officials announced Tuesday that statewide use was reduced by a meager 1.8 percent in July over last year, and warned that this seemingly unquenchable thirst may have dire consequences in the not-at-all-distant future.

As CalMatters reports, the Department of Water Resources alerted water suppliers south of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta that their allotments—already cut to 5 percent this year—might be slashed to zero next year. The department further warned that this liquid austerity could extend to settlement contractors, users whose claims to state water predates the current system of aqueducts, reservoirs, and canals.

With extreme or worse drought conditions in 90 percent of the state, DWR director Karla Nemeth put it bluntly at Tuesday’s meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board.

“The challenge is, there is no water,” she said. “We’re planning for the worst, but we are hoping for something better.”

Reflecting on the so-far lackluster conservation efforts, Control Board chair Joaquin Esquivel told reporters at a Monday press conference, “I’m not here to say 1.8 is a good number. We’re going to have to continue to dig in deeper and look forward to seeing what the numbers show then in August.”

As for what the next steps could be, Esquivel says the board is mulling the current data.

“We need to continue to see that response and decision-making,” he said, “and the state’s here to make sure that if we need to go mandatory, that’s where we’re going.”

Not everyone was derelict in their consumption curbing. The North Coast boasted a nearly 18 percent reduction in use for July 2021 over last year, while Healdsburg in Sonoma County won the state by cutting its water use by more than half and Cloverdale slashed its usage 37 percent. Both cities enacted mandatory water-use restrictions.

On the other hand, SoCal made a sad showing, with areas including Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, and Ventura counties saving just 0.1 percent in July 2021 over July 2020. In fact, roughly 40 percent of water suppliers in the area actually used more water.

Some of the worst water-suckers were El Segundo, up 31 percent since last year; the Mission Viejo-Laguna Niguel area, which guzzled 15 percent more; while the cities of Downey and Poway and the Casitas district in Ventura were all up 14 percent. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the city of San Diego, meanwhile, used about 1 percent more than in 2020.

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