California has been plagued by a highly-politicized water crisis for months now, despite crisis warnings for years.
The state has fallen prey to the “tragedy of the (water) commons”, where each person feels their single contribution to the water crisis will not impact the overall situation. With this thought, each Californian uses water like it rained yesterday, with no regard to the desperate calls from Governor Jerry Brown for water conservation.
Until now, Californians have faced few real incentives to lower their water consumption levels. Past water infrastructure subsidies have kept the price of water down as political forces ensured a disastrously low price for California’s many residents. The result was a low water price of less than 0.7 cents per gallon in 2014 for San Diego and Los Angeles. In cities such as Irvine, next to the University of California, the price can be as low as 0.2 cents per gallon.
Economists believe simply raising the water price by 10 percent could cut consumption by 2 to 4 percent.
Not limited to simple price increases, however, new California laws are mandating significant decreases in water consumption. These policies include:
- New cuts affect 276 rights held by 114 entities to pull water from the Delta, Sacramento, and San Joaquin watersheds. Each of these entities could be supplying water to dozens of additional users.
- Farmers in the Central Valley have already had their surface water allotment lowered or erased in the last few years.
- In May, about 200 farmers agreed to lower their water usage by 25 percent in exchange for a promise to face no deeper cuts during the growing season.
- Other restrictions implemented in May limited yard watering to twice a week and between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
- Owners of large farms will now have to hand over detailed reports of their water use to state regulators.
- A recent executive order calls for the replacement of 50 million square feet of ornamental turf, such as municipality-owned lawns or private lawns.
- For wealthy consumers, districts now reserve the right to install flow restrictors for private use.
- Top water users are facing cuts up to 36 percent.
While these policies might lower water consumption, they may be a little too much too late. In the end, these draconian measures are sure to enrage those who can afford higher water prices, while also punishing farmers and low-income water consumers.