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drought

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Small, self-sufficient water systems continue to battle a hidden drought

By Amanda Fencl - Posted on 07 August 2017

[cross posted from the CA Water Blog

By Amanda Fencl, Meghan Klasic

California’s drought appears over, at least above ground. As of April 2017, reservoirs were around 2 million acre feet above normal with record breaking snowpack . This is great news for the 75% of Californians that get their drinking water from large, urban surface water suppliers. Groundwater, however, takes longer to recharge and replenish. What does this mean for the more than 2,000 small community water systems and hundreds of thousands of private well-reliant households that rely on groundwater?

Small water systems are defined in our study as those have fewer than 3,000 connections, i.e. those that are not required to file an Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). A large proportion of small systems serve low-income communities in rural areas. These communities are burdened with high unemployment, crime, and pollution, and their water systems typically have lower technical, managerial, and financial capacity for operations. Of the approximately 13 million people living within disadvantaged communities (DAC), nearly 2 million get their drinking water from a small system. These low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to contaminated drinking water, usually from small systems that struggle to comply with regulations.

These same small systems were hit hard by the drought, and in many cases are the least prepared. The state knew this headed into the drought: “California also has small, rural water companies or districts with virtually no capacity to respond to drought or other emergencies [… a portion of the small systems]  in the state face running dry in the second or third year of a drought” (p.56, emphasis added). In contrast, urban drinking water suppliers (larger systems) are required to have a water shortage contingency plans (Shortage Plan) since the passage of the Urban Water Management Act in 1983. Aside from lower reservoir levels and toxic algal blooms, the majority of large surface water suppliers weathered the recent drought (2012-2016) without supply disruptions or other negative impacts to their customers. A 2015 survey distributed by the UC Davis Policy Institute shows that more large systems (89%) have written drought contingency plans (Plan) than small systems (63%) (manuscript in prep). When asked whether their Plan was sufficient to mitigate the drought’s impacts on water supply, 22% of large and 28% of small system respondents said it was not sufficient or only somewhat sufficient, which begs the question of how can these be improved before the next drought? 

The 2016 Emergency Conservation Regulations: The Moral Hazard of Mandatory Measures

By Mark Lubell - Posted on 12 May 2016

On May 9, 2016 the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) announced new emergency water conservation regulations applicable to urban water suppliers throughout the state.

Mark Lubell featured in Capital Public Radio segment on California water consumption

By Carlos Barahona - Posted on 06 May 2015

Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior director Mark Lubell joins Capital Public Radio's Insight to discuss the collective action problem California faces in reducing water use in times of extreme drought. 

Segment Miniplayer

Californians' Water Consumption Habits

The California Drought is a Political Time Machine

By Mark Lubell - Posted on 05 March 2014

The recent California drought is a time machine. It represents a regularly recurring event in California’s Mediterranean climate, which cycles back and forth between dry and wet years so frequently that a “normal” year is actually the exception. Hence, we have witnessed many droughts in the past, and we will see them again in the future. This prediction holds even if the models are wrong in forecasting that climate change will load the “climate dice” in favor of more frequent and longer duration droughts in the future. Of course most readers know this already—the recurring climate and hydrological patterns of California are big news headlines with nice info-graphics (and countless blogs, tweets, etc) in 2013-2014.

The following Los Angeles Times headlines illustrate the severity of drought in California:

How Will Farmers Respond to the California Drought?

By Meredith Niles - Posted on 12 February 2014

How will farmers respond to the drought? Following recent announcements about potential zero allocations from the California State Water Project, and the likelihood for other water allocations to follow suit, many are wondering how California agriculture will cope with the recent drought. The Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior is today releasing a new policy brief designed to answer this very question.

Using data from a farmer survey conducted by UC Davis researchers in 2011 in the Central Valley (Yolo County), we discuss farmers water uses in dry and normal years, their likely drought adaptation strategies, and how different kinds of water uses are likely to adopt different practices.

The main takeaways are:
1) Farmers shift away from surfacewater to groundwater in dry years

Pat Mulroy Exit Interview: Can a Water Warrior Learn to Cooperate?

By Mark Lubell - Posted on 04 February 2014

For over 20 years, Pat Mulroy has been the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, with responsibility for securing the water supplies for the Las Vegas metropolitan region. Over that time, she earned a reputation as a savvy and tough character in water politics, where she has been involved in many of the biggest issues at the local, state, regional, and federal levels. She is retiring from her position on Thursday, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal posted an interesting exit interview. There are some real gems in this interview, which I think are worth further elaboration.

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