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PD Editorial: Drought denial must end

The ill effects of California’s drought keep piling up like tumble weeds on a dusty desert plateau.

A study released this week by UC Davis researchers projected a $1 billion loss in revenue and $500 million in increased groundwater pumping costs for California farmers. Unless there’s a wet winter, the study found, some farmers could see their wells go dry next year. More than 17,000 farming jobs are likely to be lost.

Another new report found that, rather than conserving water, Californians are using more in 2014 year than in any of the past three years.

“Not everybody in California understands how bad this drought is … and how bad it could be,” said Felicia Marcus, the chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board.

Indeed, the latest forecasts suggest that warming in the Pacific Ocean, a pattern known as El Niño, won’t produce an unusually wet winter, at least not here in Northern California.

Hopes for drought-busting storms “have little basis in reality,” weather historian Christopher C. Burt wrote recently at WeatherUnderground.com. “Current models indicate the coming El Niño will be of only ‘moderate’ strength. This may have an impact on the southern third of the state, but, historically, moderate El Niño’s have not influenced rainfall patterns one way or the other for the northern two-thirds of California.”

Looking beyond this year, the National Climate Assessment is predicting that climate change will make drought a persistent problem in California.

So it’s a little early to break out the umbrella.

But it’s past time for all Californians to conserve water.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency in January and urged residents to reduce their water usage by 20 percent. Unfortunately, those savings haven’t been achieved anywhere in the state, according to a survey released by the Water Resources Control Board.

Overall, usage was up 1 percent in May compared to the average for 2011-13, driven by an 8.4 percent increase in coastal Southern California cities. The northeastern part of the state, a region stretching from Mono Lake to the Oregon border, saw a 5 percent increase.

North Coast residents have cut back by 12.3 percent, with a 22 percent reduction in Santa Rosa tying for the sixth-best statewide. The survey also found savings in the Sacramento River watershed (13 percent) and in the Bay Area (5 percent).

This week, the water board put some teeth in the governor’s plea for conservation, granting cities, counties and water districts the authority to mete out fines of up to $500 a day for wasting water.

The board cited wasteful practices such as allowing runoff from outdoor sprinklers, washing vehicles with a hose lacking a shut-off valve and hosing down driveways and sidewalks with drinking water.

The board already had barred farmers - the state’s largest water users -with secondary rights from diverting water from the upper Russian River and other rivers with low water levels.

Farmers who waste water should be subject to the same fines as urban residents. That’s a step the board hasn’t taken. It should do so forthwith.

Beyond that, there are other water-saving measures that could be adopted by urban water users and farmers.

A recent study by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council identified steps that could cut urban use by 60 percent. Among them are metering all homes, recycling and reusing more water, storing rainwater and replacing turf with drought-resistant landscapes.

Many communities, including Santa Rosa, offer subsidies to homeowners who replace their lawns.

Agricultural users could save more than 20 percent by switching to drip irrigation and adopting scientific methods for water crops that rely on weather and soil conditions, according to the study.

Everyone needs to find ways to pitch in and save water, as a dry summer may foreshadow yet another dry winter for California.

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