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The Drought Worsens - Rationing on the Way?

by: Robert Cruickshank

Mon Dec 03, 2007 at 07:42:41 AM PST

Sure, we all laughed when Atlanta prayed for rain to help end its drought, and many Californians probably shook their heads at a red state's reckless growth that helped produce the crisis.

But what's that they said about stones and glass houses? California's drought is becoming worse by the day. The State Department of Water Resources estimates NorCal will only be able to export 25% of usual water supplies to SoCal in 2008 - less than the 60% exports that were made in 2007. The Sierra snowpack barely exists, and the Colorado River drought has shown little sign of easing. Despite weekend rainfall here on the Central Coast and in SoCal, it's not enough to ease drought concerns.

Already local water agencies are beginning to plan for rationing, such as in Santa Cruz and Riverside. The Monterey Peninsula Water District is even considering cloud seeding for the Carmel River watershed (don't laugh, apparently it works).

Meanwhile, conservation activists are fighting to prevent the state from abrogating the 1960 promise that the State Water Project would give urban users priority in a drought. In 1995 the state tried to eliminate this guarantee, but the amendments were temporary, and this week the DWR is holding hearings about whether or not this should be made permanent or the original promises restored. Written comments can be submitted by January 14.

Certainly California has long-term concerns regarding overuse, sprawl, and global warming's impact on water supplies. But we also have short-term concerns; only the unusually wet spring of 2006 has staved off disaster. We treat wet years as "normal" years and dry years as abberations, but perhaps it's better we look at it the other way around, and begin to adjust our lifestyles and civilization to make do with less water.

Robert Cruickshank :: The Drought Worsens - Rationing on the Way?
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Rain? (0.00 / 0)
Hopefully we'll get some rain up here by the Bay, and that will mean some snow for the Sierra. Meanwhile, skiing ain't so great in Tahoe until we get some real snow.  

We should have begun rationing a long time ago. I mean we have taken very few steps to actually  reduce our water usage. People still have lawns where fescue should not be growing. Hey people, it comes from Kentucky for a reason! It belongs there, not here! People need to start considering what they can do to reduce water usage.

I think I'd favor rationing over simple price increases at this point. However, we should be looking at water pricing models to encourage conservation. Sure, some gallons of water cost more than others now, but it's practically meaningless. We need a pricing model which will allow people to maintain proper nutritional and hygeine, but yet force them to consider whether they really need that lush green lawn.

I think?

So (0.00 / 0)
Progressive pricing?  The more you use, the more expensive it gets.  Do it per capita or per household or whatever.

[ Parent ]
No per-apartment meters (0.00 / 0)
Few (no?) apartments in California have per-apartment water meters.  This will greatly limit the ability to impose that kind of rationing on urban dwellers.  This is going to be a long-term approach in urban areas, not something we can roll out overnight in response to an emergency.

A Rough & Tumble reader.

[ Parent ]
Indeed (0.00 / 0)
but why has the subject not come up yet? We need to plan more strategically for the coming environment.

I think?

[ Parent ]
I'm not sure why (0.00 / 0)
There was an effort a few years ago by the EPA to clarify that that the landlord doesn't need to do testing and monitoring of the water if they're getting it from a public utility which in turn does that testing and monitoring.

I've seen claims that water (unlike electric and gas) ends up being a legal responsibility of the property owner, irrespective of whether there are per-apartment meters, but have yet to find an authoritative source.

A Rough & Tumble reader.

[ Parent ]
Although I'm not an expert on that (0.00 / 0)
It is clear that the lack of per-apartment water meters is indeed an impediment to effective urban conservation. I don't know how many times I've thought "OK, keep the shower short even though it's cold as fuck this morning" only to hear the folks in the unit above run theirs for 30 minutes.

More importantly, this leaves renters vulnerable to rent increases, as higher rates get passed on to tenants. Renters should be rewarded for conservation, not punished for it in the form of higher rents.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Increasing Block Rate (0.00 / 0)
That's generally referred to as "Increasing Block Rate".  Electricity is often priced in the same way.  The other two models commonly found in California are "Uniform Rate" (each gallon costs the same), and "Fixed Rate" (unmetered).

The last water pricing model is "Decreasing Block Rate" where the more water you use, the less each incremental gallon costs.  I doubt that is used anywhere in California.

Increasing block rate does promote efficiency but it punishes larger households and multi-family buildings with single meters.  San Francisco's new rate structure deals with this somewhat by having increasing block rate for single-family residences and uniform rate for multi-family buildings.


[ Parent ]
I've already considered I don't need the damned lawn. (0.00 / 0)
My landlord, however, does not agree. Even though *I* pay the water bill, I have to keep her stupid lawn green. Ticks me off.

[ Parent ]
Meanwhile (0.00 / 0)
There's a foot and half of water in the streets around my old apartment in Seattle, where they've had 5 1/2 inches of rain in the last 72 hours. Which is unusual for them (dirty little secret: it doesn't rain nearly as much in Seattle as most believe, but Seattleites like to keep the myth alive so their fair city isn't overwhelmed). If only those storms would come a few hundred miles further to the south...

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

Water Bond anyone ? (0.00 / 0)
Conservation will be important, but there is a lot of work that is needed to improve California's infrastructure too.  Global warming means less snowpack and faster snowmelt, California will have LESS water than normal.  And every year we will have MORE people.  We should wake up to the reality and plan for better facilities, desalinization, and yes, another reservoir or two.

Not quite that simple (0.00 / 0)
If there's LESS water than normal...what good are new reservoirs? What water will they hold? In an environment of less water flow, you are going to have a hell of a time getting approval to reduce flow to rivers via reservoirs. Further, it's not at all clear that they're needed - Friends of the River points out that the 2005 California Water Plan shows we can meet our water needs through conservation alone.

As to desal, I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago - the short version is that it is no panacea, given the environmental effects and the uncertainty of where you're going to get the energy to power it.

A fix for the Delta is absolutely vital, and I liked Perata's earlier water bond proposal that would have rained money on local water districts for water conservation projects, from groundwater storage to greywater, which need funding to ever become reality.

But new dams are pretty much a pointless waste of money. We need to find a better way.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
The Bush DOE Screwing California (8.00 / 1)
Despite California's water shortages, in Dec. 2006, the US DOE denied California a waiver required to impose higher water efficiency standards on residential clothes washers.  The matter is now pending before the Ninth Circuit.



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