Sunday, January 25, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Water rationing: If it comes, do it right

TomEliasW

By
From page A6 | March 04, 2014 |

Despite heavy mid-February rains that briefly drenched Northern California and the respectable ensuing snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the California drought remains.

In fact, it is still more severe than the worst previous dry spell of modern times, which hit in 1976-77.

Short of millennial downpours in late winter or early spring, this means water rationing is almost certain for most Californians. When and if it comes, there are lessons to be learned from what happened 37 years ago:

Rationing must be fair and include heavy consequences for failure to comply, homeowners must be willing to let some landscaping go brown, and the entire system must be free of politics. Otherwise, there’s a good chance large numbers of residents simply won’t comply.

It also would help to accelerate the water metering program now underway in Sacramento and other Central Valley communities that had no meters in the 1970s drought and a milder one that struck in 1991.

How fair is it that drought or no drought, Sacramento residents (including tens of thousands of state officials and bureaucrats) use an average of 279 gallons per day, compared with 98 gallons for San Franciscans and less than 150 per day for Los Angeles residents, habitually accused by some Sacramentans of “stealing” their water?

How fair is it for denizens of the leafy San Francisco Peninsula suburb of Hillsborough to use 334 gallons per day, while 14 miles away in much less fortunate East Palo Alto, residents glug only 79, according to reportage in the San Jose Mercury News?

Those figures and the reality that only about half the homes in Sacramento and several other Central Valley cities now have water meters makes it blatantly unfair even to consider asking or requiring anyone to cut use by a set percentage.

Yes, everyone likely will need to cut. But when Hillsborough or Sacramento residents cut by the 20 percent Gov. Jerry Brown now requests of all Californians, they still use far more water than most Californians do even in a normal, non-drought year.

It’s also true that when people are told to cut voluntarily by a certain percentage, regardless of their normal use levels, they understand that percentage cuts soon may become mandatory and be enforced with penalties. But no one knows what date will be designated as the benchmark from which use levels are measured. So anyone cutting back now risks being forced to trim much more later, when rationing begins. This creates potential future penalties for anyone who conserves today. Strategically, it makes no sense for residents to trim now when they know they soon may be asked to reduce from a new, lower level.

So rationing based on percentage cutbacks can be inherently unfair. By contrast, per-person use limits are fair, and Californians tend to respond well to them when imposed. In 1991, for example, the Marin Municipal Water District told households they could use no more than 50 gallons per person daily. Residents did better than that, using just 47 gallons each.

A weakness in this kind of system is that water districts and city water departments can’t know how many people live in each household. Even information from the latest census is outdated. And yet … Californians usually have been honest about this kind of thing. The Marin district sent out its own census cards in 1991, with the total of residents reported on them almost identical to the district’s population.

Percentage-based rationing can be successful, too, even if it’s unfair. In 1976-77, when Los Angeles households were asked to lower water use by 10 percent, residents responded by cutting almost twice that much.

What’s more, a UC Berkeley study of nine water districts at the time showed that the heavier the fines for overuse, the better was compliance.

Then there’s politics, like the February attempt of congressional Republicans to give Central Valley farms a virtual monopoly on the small supplies available this year. They ignored city residents and fishing interests, and risked putting several other species at risk of becoming endangered, as happened to the notorious delta smelt in the 1970s drought.

All of which means water rationing can work, as it has before, but only if Californians are convinced it is both necessary and fair.

— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at tdelias@aol.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Red Cross honors community heroes

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Bridges of Yolo County: Wear, tear … repair?

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Four days of unusual, adventuresome music

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Spanish police arrest 4 suspected members of a jihadi cell

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Rockets kill 30 in Ukrainian city as rebels launch offensive

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Abe ‘speechless’ after video claims IS hostage dead

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    GOP presses state bills limiting gay rights before ruling

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Abortion opponents express renewed hope at California rally

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Winter produce available at Sutter market

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Share your love (story) with us

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Sip wines at St. James’ annual tasting

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Fake schools draw federal scrutiny

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Donations to be distributed during homeless count

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

     
    Speaker will share computer security tips

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Logos Books celebrates 5 years, offers language groups

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Australian olive oil company opens U.S. headquarters in Woodland

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Explore at the YOLO Outdoor Expo

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Yolo animal shelter seeking rawhide donations

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5

     
    Woodland Healthcare employees take Great Kindness Challenge

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    At the Pond: Nest boxes give birds new homes

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    California ranks worst in nation for guidance counselors

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    Words and Music Festival events

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A12

     
    Davis, Woodland are saving water

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A12

    .

    Forum

    Family isn’t keen on relationship

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A8

     
     
    Caring for the aging mouth

    By Samer Alassaad | From Page: A8

    Rick McKee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

     
    Big utilities’ nightmare begins to play out

    By Tom Elias | From Page: A10

    Mayor’s Corner: Let’s renew Davis together

    By Dan Wolk | From Page: A10

     
    We have the right to choose

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    We don’t have to suffer

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    City helped immensely

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    When measles spreads from Disneyland, it’s a small world after all

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A11

     
    From innovation parks to innovative buildings and planning

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

    .

    Sports

    Lady Devils hold off Pacers, stay perfect in league

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Wildcats’ inaugural kids development league exceeds expectations

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggies get top 2015 gymnastics score, but fall short

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Loud crowd sees DHS boys win

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Watney in ninth at Humana Challenge

    By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B8

     
    UCD men take two tennis matches

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Davis man focusing on cannabidiol business

    By Will Bellamy | From Page: A9

     
    Marrone Bio’s Regalia approved for new uses in Canada

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    UCD grad makes insurance ‘hot 100′ list

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Thomas George Byrne

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, January 25, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8