Did California Ease Water Conservation Regulations Too Soon?

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October 20, 2016

Last year, in an effort to combat a prolonged drought, California enacted water conservation policies. Developers, municipalities, farmer, and residents all took steps to save water, and the state cut urban water use over 25 percent. After that success, and a wet winter, California abandoned the restrictions this year.

The New York Times reports that, in August, water conservation dropped below 18 percent compared with August 2013, suggesting that the regulations may have been lifted too soon.

“The lifting of the mandatory conservation targets was a big mistake,” said Peter H. Gleick, a founder of the Pacific Institute, a think tank dedicated to water issues. “It sent the wrong message, it stopped the implementation of a growing set of effective urban conservation and efficiency programs, and it took pressure off both utilities and individuals to continue to improve water-use efficiency.”

Conditions are not as dire as they once were — residents of Central Valley farming communities no longer have to lug buckets of water or rigorously manage bathing times — meteorologists say that the drought may be a permanent shift towards a more arid climate. It is estimated to take five years of rain to replenish groundwater supplies and reservoirs.

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