Editorial: Saving water was the priority in California

Californians met the target, butconsensus on long-term action is still lacking

La sequía golpeó duramente a California en 2015, como puede verse en el nivel del agua del lago Hensley.
La sequía golpeó duramente a California en 2015, como puede verse en el nivel del agua del lago Hensley.
Foto: Getty Images

The fourth consecutive year of drought in California forced everyone to take extraordinary measures to save water. Californians were up to the challenge in 2015, drastically reducing consumption and studying long-term alternatives to address the water shortage from farms to urban areas.

To make matters worse, this year marked our state’s highest temperature in 120 years, since record-keeping began. The fact that this drought has been much hotter than those in the 20th century spurred a greater demand for water. The lack of humidity also led to two of the most destructive fires in California history.

For those reasons, for the first time on our state’s history, Governor Brown issued an executive order to reduce water consumption in cities. In the spring, savings targets were set ranging from 4% to 36%.

The reaction was positive. Authorities successfully promoted replacing turf grass with other types of landscaping thanks to millions of dollars in reimbursement programs. Big spenders who did not collaborate were fined. Nonetheless, fewer people made changes to their bathrooms, considered the most efficient way to save water.

Californians heeded the call, but the drought remains a reality in the state. There was a great deal of talk but little agreement about how to prepare for the future. For farmers, saving water means building levees, which has been paralyzed for decades; for Brown, the key is to move water to the south of the state using an ambitious tunnel system; for others, it is the creation of seawater desalination plants like the one recently opened in Carlsbad. Meanwhile, for ecologists, saving water is the only way to avoid harming the ecosystems with the other methods.

The arrival of El Niño will bring rains this winter. Snowpack reserves are on the rise, and consideration is being given to easing some of the targets set for the cities. This does not mean that individuals should halt efforts to save water. With the semiarid conditions of Southern California and climate change, it is likely that 2015 will be more the rule than the exception in the future.