California drought: Cities in the San Joaquin Valley are not sparing water


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Sprinklers run across a grassy area in front of Fresno's Eaton School in this 2014 photo. Runoff needs to be minimized during a drought.

Sprinklers run across a grassy area in front of Fresno’s Eaton School in this 2014 photo. Runoff needs to be minimized during a drought.

Photo of the Fresno Bee

Remember a couple weeks ago when it rained half an inch in Fresno and snowed in the Sierra?

It sure was nice while it lasted. But with nothing but sunny skies in the near-term forecast and La Niña ocean conditions forecast once again this winter, all signs point to a fourth straight year of drought in California.

Lest anyone forget while we were bombarded with election speculation and commercials, California remains historically dry. The past three years have been the driest on record.

Our particular section of the Golden State (i.e. the San Joaquin Valley) has the worst of them all. We are experiencing what federal agencies have called “exceptional” droughts, compared to other regions where drought conditions are classified as “extreme”, “severe” and “moderate”.

Because the San Joaquin Valley is experiencing California’s worst drought conditions and our economic dependence on agriculture, those of us who live here should be very diligent about conserving water.

Especially when mandated to do so by Governor Gavin Newsom, who in July 2021 called for a voluntary 15 percent reduction in water use rather than imposing mandatory restrictions similar to those implemented in 2015 by former Governor Jerry Brown.

“As the state braces for the possibility of a fourth dry year and potential extreme weather, it’s more important than ever that we all adopt water conservation as a way of life,” Newsom said in a recent statement. “Together we can save water and save California.”

A recent report from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that Californians fell short of Newsom’s 15% savings goal. The state’s urban water agencies managed to save just 4% between July 2021 and August 2022 over 2020 usage levels before jumping to 9% during the summer months.

To illustrate their data, the authors took the monthly supply reports from every urban water agency in the state and plotted them on a graph, separated into six geographic regions. Laid out like this, it’s easy to see where Californians have done a good job saving water and where they haven’t.

Urban water agencies in the North Coast and San Francisco Bay Area were at the higher end of the graph, meeting or nearing Newsom’s 15% savings goal, followed by those in the Sacramento Valley and the Central Coast . Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley lagged behind. Up until last summer, users were barely saving water.

Every drop of water saved helps

What’s up with that? Shouldn’t those of us who live in the hardest-hit area of ​​California, in a region whose largest industry depends on irrigation, be the biggest water hawkers in the state?

Obviously not. At least not judging by the PPIC report—or my neighbor’s sprinklers who continue to water his yard (and half of mine) several times a week in defiance, or ignoring, of Clovis’s winter watering schedule.

If you’re one of those folks who tends to a lush lawn, takes long showers, and washes the car in the driveway with an open house while complaining about how farmers aren’t getting enough water for their crops, it’s time to hook up your points.

It’s easy to think of California’s water intake as a three-slice pie. About 50% of the pie goes to the environment (half via federally designated wild and scenic rivers in the far north of the state), 40% goes to agriculture, and 10% to cities. So while residential use helps account for the smallest chunk, every drop of savings helps.

California’s water crisis will not be solved through conservation alone. The state needs to recycle more water, capture more water (like the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District, which fills 150 ponds with storm runoff from a 400 square mile area), store more water (preferably underground), and rip our meadows. Even our archaic water rights laws need to be reworked.

Newsom insisted he is examining every option, including some new ideas he called “glass-breaking scenarios.” Meanwhile, now that re-election is no longer an issue, mandatory water restrictions should be implemented without a moment’s hesitation.

Californians, and especially residents of the San Joaquin Valley, have largely ignored Newsom’s call for us to reduce our water consumption. The next step is to be forced.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports, and quality-of-life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has been with since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, UC Davis graduate, and lifelong lover of the Sierra. He welcomes conversation with readers but does not tolerate fools or trolls.


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