Sunday, July 27, 2014
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

.

News

Zombies by rail: It’s not just a show, it’s a trip

By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Fatal Covell Boulevard crash recalled in court

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

Humphrey Fellows will host Global Forum

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Community gardens stretch food dollars, study finds

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Wildfire spurs evacuation of 700 homes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
State can’t say if it’s meeting drought goal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Rairdan joins race for Davis school board

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

Ukraine launches offensive to retake Donetsk

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Israel extends Gaza truce through Sunday

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

New ordinance aims to prevent nut thefts from orchards

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

 
Biggest book sale to date opens Friday at Davis library

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Luna family matriarch turns 100

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
 
Discussion of oil by rail EIR planned Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Mace Innovation Center is focus of meeting

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Freeway crash injures two drivers

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5

Museum wants your old Davis High School yearbooks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Affordable housing forum planned in Davis

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

 
Protesters gather at Primate Center

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A8

 
State awards $40,000 for historic property survey

By Lily Holmes | From Page: A8

Free blood pressure screenings offered

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Vanguard hosts economic development director

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Get a sneak peek at documentary trailer

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Davis Chamber Choir sings short summer program

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A9

Tasting event benefits Yolo Land Trust

By Lily Holmes | From Page: A9

 
At the Pond: From Davis, it’s easy to get back to nature

By Jean Jackman | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Tickets on sale now for DHS Hall of Fame dinner

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
.

Forum

Feels like a million miles away

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A7

 
Here’s what you need for a perfect wedding

By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

 
Check doctors’ vitals before they check yours

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Husband’s let himself go

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A14

 
Questions on water rights

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

Campus turns on the tap

By Our View | From Page: A16

 
So, what’s in a week’s worth of waste?

By Michelle Millet | From Page: A16

Pat Oliphant cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A16

 
Golf tourney was a big success

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16

We can do more to help

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

 
New playground is wonderful

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

Just Us in Davis: Little Rock Nine hero to celebrate with Davis youths

By Jann L. Murray-Garcia | From Page: A17 | Gallery

 
.

Sports

Sutherland presents 1st clinic; golf column on its way

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
New Korematsu teacher is an American Ninja Warrior

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Furyk opens 3-shot lead in Canadian Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Gray wins 6th straight, A’s 4 HRs beat Texas 5-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Kershaw throws 2-hitter as Dodgers beat Giants 5-0

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Nibali set to cruise to Tour victory

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Area sports briefs: River Cats take Game 1 of doubleheader

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

 
.

Features

.

Arts

.

Business

Companies will collaborate on crop insect control

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A13

 
Developer’s commitments: affordable and green

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13 | Gallery

Lagerstrom represents Davis at Mary Kay seminar

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

 
UC Davis Health System earns ‘Most Wired’ award

By Charles Casey | From Page: A15

Bartholomew hires new associate

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

 
Yolo County real estate sales

By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A15

Go back to school with Great Clips

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

 
.

Obituaries

Carlton Hope Meister

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Jonathan Eric Hollander

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Comics: Sunday, July 27, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A6