Wet weather conditions in Northern California, along with water conservation measures across the state, have resulted in growing water reserves for the Southland. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) announced Monday that it is pleased with the state's progress, but it warned against overly relaxing conservation efforts due to California's ongoing drought.
"It's no time to stop conserving. We know that. We still have challenges ahead of us," MWD board chairman Randy Record said.
With California in its fifth year of severe drought, officials encouraged Californians to celebrate conservation victories, but to stay active in minimizing wasteful water use. At USC, this means continuing to implement programs like the Sustainability 2020 plan, which calls for the university to cut its use of potable water by 25 percent in the next four years.
The state's level of water preservation is relatively high—in August, urban Californians cut its water use by 17.7 percent—even though it is about 10 percentage points lower than it was at the same time last year. This is a result of the State Water Resources Control Board relaxing restrictions on water usage. During the emergency drought period of 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a mandatory 25 percent cut in the total urban water usage of Californians.
"It's important that all Californians remain diligent about conserving water, and that we continue to press this notion of making efficient water use a part of the California lifestyle," said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources.
Cowin's concerns mirror those of California Gov. Jerry Brown when he issued an executive order earlier this year to establish long-term conservation goals for California. The emphasis on continuous action reflects understanding among conservation officials that the drought will not go away anytime soon.
The future of water supply in the state remains unclear. If there are no major storms or precipitation this winter, California could have troublingly low levels of water in 2017.
"Eight of the last ten years have been drought years in California. We've only had one wet year and one moderate year in the last decade," General Manager of MWD Jeff Kightlinger said. "So many of us take a look at this—that this may be the new normal."
Adapting to the new weather patterns will require Californians to look beyond short-term goals to alleviate drought effects on fisheries, wildfires and strained water supplies, according to Cowin.
"It's very clear at this point that 2016 was not a drought buster," he said.
The growing water supply is a result of an increase in the State Water Project's distribution, a system in which water is transferred from Northern California. Residents and officials are seeing water storage areas more full than they have been in several years, especially in Diamond Valley Lake, a major emergency and drought-relief storage area. The Riverside County Reservoir should also be 70 percent full by the end of the year.
Kightlinger acknowledged this jump, mentioning that it is "the first increase to regional reserves in four years."
About half of the Southland reservoirs' water supply is coming from northern regions of California and the Colorado River. The water is transported through several state-wide systems and aqueducts such as the State Water Project and the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The water carried through these means is mainly used for domestic and agricultural use.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated who issued a mandatory 25 percent cut in total urban water usage of Californians. Gov. Brown issued the order.