It’s Up to Us to Make Voluntary Approach the Right Approach to Water Use Reduction

  • by Steve LaMar & Pamela Tobin
  • Jul 23, 2021
  • Voices on Water

On July 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order that called on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% from what they used in 2020. 

The Governor’s use of a voluntary approach strongly encourages Californians to do their part in using water wisely. At the same time, this approach also provides local water managers with an appropriate level of discretion based on the actual water supply conditions in their communities.  His approach deserves our strong support.

The drought’s impacts on local water supplies vary widely across California, a fact we live with every day and a reality Gov. Newsom has repeatedly emphasized. An acknowledgment of these differences has driven a region-by-region approach to expanding drought emergencies in the state, instead of immediately taking a one-size-fits-all approach through a statewide mandate. Even if drought conditions persist and the Governor must consider mandatory requirements, the experience of the last drought shows much more can be gained through a “stress-test” approach that accounts for local water supply conditions in setting water use reduction requirements for each community.

It is no secret that some political interests want the voluntary call for water use reduction to fail, leaving a mandatory approach as the only option on the table. ACWA member agencies must do all we can to collaborate with our communities and educate and help customers to make the voluntary 15% reduction work. As spelled out in the Executive Order, the State Water Resources Control Board will monitor and track progress of urban water use. 

We know that achieving the 15% mark in reduced water use will take work by our members and their customers. Per capita residential water use statewide has remained on average 16% below 2013 levels as of 2020, which the Executive Order is using as a baseline. 

Most people recognize that conservation is a way of life in our state. Water agencies deserve a lot of credit for that progress, achieved through vigorous and sustained public education efforts. This includes the statewide Save Our Water campaign, created through a partnership between ACWA and the Department of Water Resources. That same collaboration with our colleagues within the state and federal government also expanded pioneering efforts into water recycling and water use efficiency. 

In working to achieve this goal of a 15% reduction in water use, we won’t be starting from scratch. Many water agencies have already implemented voluntary or mandatory conservation reductions in response to the ongoing drought, in some cases calling for even higher percentages than the new order.

Water agencies work every day to prepare for dry conditions and continuously plan for managing limited resources in times of drought. This includes meeting a July 1 deadline this year for urban and retail water suppliers to submit Urban Water Management Plans and Water Shortage Contingency Plans to the Department of Water Resources. These plans assess water supply reliability for a five-year drought and identify specific actions in case of local water shortages.

Likewise, agricultural water suppliers submitted Agricultural Water Management Plans to the state earlier this year, which include drought plans, a water budget and implementation of efficient water management practices.  

ACWA’s member agencies are also making significant investments in water infrastructure that are critical to ensuring a reliable water supply for California’s communities, economy and the environment during droughts. State and federal drought funding assistance for local water infrastructure is essential to the success of that work. 

Tying all of this together is the proven ability of our members to successfully deliver positive results during trying times when supported by our partners in water management at the state and federal levels. Local management of California’s water supplies is the best possible approach to prepare for and adapt to longer and more intense droughts caused by climate change. It’s up to us to prove that a voluntary approach to statewide water conservation is in fact the right approach. 

You can find more information about ACWA member agencies’ local drought responses, including voluntary and mandatory conservation orders and links to Water Shortage Contingency Plans, at www.acwa.com/drought-response. Examples of ACWA member agencies’ work toward creating a more reliable and resilient water supply is also available at www.acwa.com/drought.

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