To date, the Santa Clarita Valley has received less than 4 inches of rain, its lowest rainfall in a hundred years, according to our local water agency. Our valley also normally receives around 50% of our local supply from the Sierra snowpack. It is measured several times each year in various river basins by the Department of Water Resources. With some areas receiving more snow than others, it is still generally below average this year. It going to be a tough water year for farmers and homeowners.
San Francisco is already in stage 2 of its drought cutback plan and other cities are following suit. Environmentalists are worried about fish surviving in low river flows. Here in Santa Clarita and in Los Angeles, drought and low rainfall has barely been mentioned.
As newspapers around California and the western states trumpet drought warnings, our local water agency is just completing its “Water Shortage Contingency Plan,” a required part of urban water management planning in California. In a recent report to board members, agency staff said we do not have to worry this year because we have adequate reserves.
While reserves are certainly a good thing, I wonder if underplaying a statewide drought is really the direction to go. For instance, the new proposed drought ordinance begins by listing several water conservation strategies we all should be following now. I suspect many people are unaware of these easy steps to reduce their water usage and save on their water bill. Wouldn’t talking about the unusually low rainfall be a good time to do this?
Our proposed water shortage ordinance has six stages, unlike most others that have only five, as required by the state. Our first stage states merely that you must comply with all these water-saving strategies, with which the agency says we are already supposed to be complying. Again, these are simple changes for most, and actions many of us have already made a way of life. Here are a few examples:
Outdoor: Irrigation systems should be checked monthly for breaks and adjusted so overspray, runoff and water waste are avoided.
Repair all water system leaks within 24 hours of detection or before next scheduled watering cycle.
Shredded bark mulch, at a minimum 3-inch depth, should cover all bare earth and planting areas to help soil retain moisture and keep weeds from growing.
Pool covers should be used to reduce evaporation.
Indoor: All leaks to faucets, toilets and indoor pipes should be repaired immediately.
WaterSense Certified devices for plumbing faucets, toilets and showers should be used.
To promote water conservation, operators of hotels and motels should provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily. The hotel or motel should prominently display notice of this option in each guest room in a clear and easily understood manner.
Here are some of the “don’ts” in the ordinance that we are supposed to be following all the time.
Allowing runoff onto non-irrigated areas when irrigating with potable water.
Using hoses with no shutoff nozzles to wash cars.
Using potable water to wash sidewalks, driveways and hardscapes.
If stage one means complying with these water conservation strategies and that is what we are already supposed to be doing, then why not declare it now so our community is made more aware of our current low rainfall and statewide drought?
As climate change continues to warm our planet, snowpack in the Sierras is expected to drop and eventually disappear. For our area, there is a likelihood of continued reduced rainfall. Are we ready for this? While we don’t have to cut back this year, what will we have to go through when tens of thousands of new housing units are built and we are trying to supply water during a drought for double the population?
You can see for yourself by reviewing the SCV Water Agency’s drought plan. You can view and comment on the plan and draft ordinance by April 12 at yourscvwater.com/wscp/.
Member, SCV Groundwater
Sustainability Advisory Committee