A long dry spell this past winter gave Californians ample reason to worry that the state was sinking into another drought.

Some early spring rainstorms filled the state’s reservoirs, allaying those fears — for this year.

But the Golden State has had more drought years than rainy years since 2001, and scientists warn that climate change will produce increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, including the potential for more frequent and more intense droughts.

So water conservation is becoming a way of life in California, and Proposition 72 on the June 5 ballot offers an incentive to save water by installing rain barrels to collect storm runoff for lawn and garden irrigation.

If Prop. 72 is approved, homeowners won’t get dunned for higher property taxes when they install rainwater-capture systems.

Under Proposition 13, California’s landmark property tax law, homes are subject to reassessment and higher taxes when new features are added. There already are exemptions for solar energy systems, fire sprinklers, seismic retrofits and upgrades that improve access for the disabled.

Prop. 72 would add rainwater capture systems, which can cost thousands of dollars, to the list of exemptions.

The proposal zipped through the Legislature without a negative vote, and with support from business and environmental interests. But it also requires voter approval.

This should be an easy choice.

Californians are increasingly drought aware, and they’re looking for ways to conserve water. A rainwater-capture system is a good option for many homeowners. Industry groups say that a house with a 1,500-square-foot roof in an area that gets 12 inches of rain annually can bank 10,800 gallons of water. Much of the North Coast region gets about three times that much precipitation in an average year.

If homeowners capture more of the rooftop runoff, they can keep lawns and gardens healthy, reduce their water bills and ease the pinch if — make that when — drought and mandatory conservation return. But the benefits extend beyond any individual homeowner. Any use of rainwater will free water from conventional sources for other homes and businesses.

Moreover, the incentive promised by Prop. 72 would come at an opportune time for conservation-minded homeowners who plan to rebuild after last fall’s devastating fires, especially if they can leverage their savings by including a rainwater-capture system in their rebuilding plans.

State Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, the sponsor of Prop. 72, says he hopes rainwater-capture systems will become as popular as solar panels here in California. Ambitious? Yes, but when the Australian government offered incentives to capture rainwater following a punishing drought several years ago, nearly a third of eligible homes took advantage of the opportunity.

“People shouldn’t pay a tax for conserving water,” Glazer told the San Jose Mercury News.

He’s right. Water is a precious resource and California needs to use it wisely. Prop. 72 offers a chance to save large volumes of water, and The Press Democrat recommends a yes vote.

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