As winter rain finally begins to fill Folsom reservoir from its historically low water level brought on by a prolonged drought, local residents will probably be just as quick to flush away their water conservation habits. The water conservation practices that Northern California residents temporarily adopted because of statewide drought reduction targets resulted in minimal disruption and sacrifice to our lives. That so many households easily reduced their water consumption by 25% to 50% over 2013 levels illustrates that suburban household’s waste more water than we thought. Even with Folsom Lake approaching near dead pool level in 2015, we were never pushed to conserve more water and there was never sense of urgency.
We need the rain
A constant refrain from people I talked to regarding our dry weather pattern all through 2015 was “we need the rain.” In reality, the “we” of suburban inhabitants didn’t need the rain. The agricultural operations are the water consumers who need the rain because their water allotments had been reduced to zero. We suburban residents really weren’t affected by drought and the mandatory water conservation efforts.
Suburban life was not affected by the drought
California survived the drought restrictions of 2015 with very little sacrifice. Home prices did not plummet because people stopped watering their lawns. Golfers continued to “tee it up” on green links at Granite Bay Golf Club. Some public water features were turned off. Park and school turf grass went brown. Overall, suburban life went on as normal and most water districts were able to meet their conservation goals mostly through voluntary conservation efforts.
Unequal conservation efforts
While agricultural operations did not receive water allocations and some rural residents experienced dry wells, Northern California urban and suburban residents felt nary a twinge of inconvenience from the drought. Some households did go to great lengths to conserve water. They put buckets in their shower, they let their landscape completely die, and they conserved every drop of water they could. Aside from outdoor watering restrictions that turned some inappropriately planted water guzzling plants from green to brown, most families were able to meet their conservation goal with little effort. Those water consumers who did go to extra-ordinary conservation efforts compensated for other home owners whose only contribution to conserving water was not demanding a glass of water at their local restaurant.
Guilty over not really conserving water
People weren’t praying for rain so much because they needed the water, they wanted the rain to assuage their guilty feelings of not really sacrificing during an epic drought that California was experiencing. They need the precipitation to wash away the nuisance of constantly feeling guilty about using water to keep their landscapes green. The winter precipitation will not only restore Folsom Lake, but it will help flush away the guilty conscience of residents who really didn’t sacrifice during the 2015 drought.
What water crisis?
Most of Northern California was never told to conserve like our lives depended on it. My local water district, San Juan Water District, whose sole source of water is Folsom Lake, never went beyond drought Stage Four – Water Crisis Water Use Restriction. And the restrictions were hardly indicative of a crisis. Our Stage Four Water Crisis allows for outdoor irrigation two days per week. This meant some people were irrigating their landscapes all night long on their designated watering days. Even when Folsom Lake reached a historically low water level of 14% of capacity and the Bureau of Reclamation had set up pipes in the lake to supply the City of Folsom with water if the level dropped lower, I was never told to curtail my outdoor watering anymore and the Granite Bay Golf Course was still green.
Why do you have green grass and I don’t?
How can there be a water crisis if homeowners are still allowed to irrigate two days per week? No one was really asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or even their landscape during this historic drought. If I am not asked to completely stop outdoor watering with Folsom Lake is at an all-time record low elevation, why should I believe any other doom and gloom scenarios presented by my water agency to induce conservation?
No sacrifice for the drought
For my part, I was able to reduce our household water consumption by 40% just by eliminating most of my front yard turf grass and dialing back the rear yard irrigation to minimal amounts twice a week. The only personal sacrifice I made was not washing my car in the drive way and I didn’t flush the toilet as often. We still had a garden and all the trees lived. Essentially, I made no sacrifice and my life actually improved because I virtually stopped mowing the grass, which I really dislike doing.
Rainforests don’t belong in Granite Bay
Unfortunately, some people think they are entitled to unlimited amounts of water to irrigate their artificial rainforest they planted in their back yards. For some people, the concept that they don’t have a right to use as much water as they wish, even if they can pay for it, is very difficult to grasp. One of the foundations of water rights is that you don’t waste the water but put it to the highest and best use. I readily admit that irrigating the turf grass in my back yard is not the highest and best use of American River water.
Water allotments by lot size
There have been some suggestions, that at least in the Granite Bay region of the San Juan Water District service area, each household should be allotted a specific amount of water based on lot size. If the consumer exceeded the allotment, they would be levied a fine. This approach puts water conservation squarely on the shoulders of the consumer. The allotments could be dialed back during times of drought.
Shifting the demand for water
Whether a more equitable system of distributing water and holding people accountable for its use ever gets implemented we’ll have to wait and see. What the 2015 water conservation efforts taught us is that with very little sacrifice to our quality of life we can easily slash our water consumption by one-third. We suburbanites waste water. Some people work to conserve more water than others and this creates friction between the water conservers and the water wasters. But with the rain, all the guilt will be washed away, Folsom will fill, and we’ll start the cycle all over again.
To see videos and picture gallery of Folsom Lake drought conditions in 2015 visit: http://insuremekevin.com/kevin-knauss/folsom-lake-granite-bay/folsom-lake-pictures/