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    Full reservoirs, but California sticks with water rationing
    • July 9, 2024

    California’s regulatory policy often is at odds with reality, but the latest water-conservation rules seem extreme even within that context. The State Water Resources Control Board has approved new mandatory conservation standards that comply with a package of state laws passed by the Legislature in recent years. They will force us to use less water by imposing targets on suppliers.

    This isn’t rationing for individual households, but the net result might be the same as water agencies are forced to meet the targets or face fines. The water agencies will then impose restrictions and raise prices. Conservation is an important part of any water strategy, but as usual the state prefers the stick to the carrot.

    Now for some perspective. After bountiful rainy seasons, California’s reservoirs are nearly full Castaic is at 92-percent capacity, as is Don Pedro, Comanche and Oroville. A few years ago, the U.S. Drought Monitor placed virtually all of California in drought conditions, some in the most severe categories. Now none of the state is facing any level of drought.

    Certainly, California needs to design its water policy for the long term given that Mother Nature does what she does, nevertheless it’s hard to get Californians’ buy in – and all such policies ultimately need public support – to conserve water when there’s plenty of it. The new policies are extremely costly, too. That money could be better spent expanding water capacity.

    The water board staff estimates the compliance costs at $4.7 billion through 2050 and the benefits at $6.2 billion, but residents shouldn’t put much stock in these numbers given the long time period. CalMatters interviewed water agencies, which question the rules’ cost effectiveness and the financial impact on lower-income Californians.

    In its January analysis, the Legislative Analyst’s Office argued the rules are “unnecessarily complex … and will be administratively burdensome to implement. Outdoor water use by these customers represents only a small fraction (less than 3 percent) of the state’s total water use.” The rules were later watered down, but the concept hasn’t changed.

    The policy is called, “Making Conservation a California Way of Life,” but Californians already have made it a way of life. Residents and businesses consistently meet water-conservation targets. But state officials and environmental groups seem more interested in changing our lifestyles than in adopting policies that provide plenty of water to serve a growing economy.

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    “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” an environmental group told the publication. Yet the state has routinely failed to prepare by expanding water storage. It should capture more water during rainy seasons so it’s available during dry ones rather than promote conservation for conservation’s sake.

    The state also needs to increase groundwater storage, invest in storm-water capture, build desalination facilities and jumpstart investments in water recycling. Around 50 percent of the state’s water flows out to the Pacific, so it’s wasteful to not use more of it for human beings.

    In terms of conservation, a rate structure that accurately reflects water usage and availability will do more to promote conservation than bureaucratic rules. When gasoline is in short supply, prices rise. The same concept should apply to all commodities. These rules will add to our cost of living without increasing water abundance, which makes it a typical California approach.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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