What does it mean when a community runs out of water? Many in California are finding out


From Klamath Redding, Mendocino to Sonoma, dozens of communities across California are facing dire water shortages.

In May, the State Board of Water Resources compiled a list of 81 public water systems that “is likely to have critical water supply issues in late August.” The systems serve an estimated 132,559 California.

Visitors to the tourist refuge in Mendocino, for example, found the hotel and bathroom groups closed, old green lawns turning straw and reading signs “Severe drought. Please conserve water.”

“This is a real emergency,” Ryan Rhoades, Mendocino City Community Service District Superintendent, told the Associated Press.


But what, exactly, does it mean when a community runs out of water?

The answer is complicated. Felicia Marcus, former chair of the California State Water Resources Control Commission and a visiting fellow at Stanford, said there is no water system in the state, but a collection of large, small and sometimes young systems.

Marcus explained, “Federals and the state stepped in to build things beyond ken or the capacity of smaller communities, adding that“ there were eras ”when both the federal and state governments intervened, such as during droughts. grav.

But usually, he said, “folks love their independence.”

Dave Eggerton, executive director of the California Association of Water Agencies, says he can’t name any community that ended up with water “on top of myself.” But some came close.

Before a community reaches this point, a series of actions are implemented, including trucks of water, passing out bottled water and strict water regulation institutions.

All of these measures, however, are often very expensive and disproportionately affect smaller and rural communities, said Heather Cooley, the director of research at the Pacific Institute, which seeks to create solutions to the world’s water problems. There is state money to help offset the costs, Cooley said, but access to them takes time.

The history is different for larger water systems, meaning people with 3,000 connections or more. These systems have the requirements to devise contingency plans for years of water scarcity. The same does not apply to smaller systems, which are not legally required to have such plans.

“Small systems didn’t have to do that because there is a financial cost to doing that,” Cooley said. “It was thought of as an additional burden that they may not be able to afford in either their time or resources.”

However, especially after California’s last drought, which ended in 2016, Cooley thinks there is a greater awareness and preparedness among smaller systems now.

“One of the things that came out of the recent drought, partly because of the impact on rural systems, was that we need more drought preparedness and contingency plans for those smaller systems,” he said.

For larger communities, the systems obviously operate on a larger scale, said Newsha Ajami, the director of Urban Water Policy and Stanford University’s Water in the West. At this scale, they can look for alternative water supply, business and home renovations to be more efficient and generally rethink how to use water.

“The fact is [that] droughts are great opportunities to rethink and reimagine how we use water and how flexible our water supply is, ”he said.

Droughts in California became “more frequent,” as well as drier and warmer than they once were, he said.

“We also need to know that we are experiencing the impact of climate change, aging infrastructure and water quality challenges due to ecosystem degradation that requires different water use patterns,” he said. “It’s a confluence of all these different challenges at the same time.”

Eggerton stressed that state and federal agencies need to have a bigger hand in California’s water system.

“We need to invest in the reliability of our water supply,” he said. “In the last 30 or 40 years, they’ve been the vast majority of investments only at the local level.”

“Our water systems,” he continued, “are older, they need to be cared for. We need to invest in new infrastructure and goals that are using surface and groundwater more efficiently.”

But Ajami thinks the problems run even deeper. He thinks California “has a stupid approach to water.”

“We’ve disconnected people from the springs so much that they don’t even think where the water is coming from,” he said. “They don’t know what it takes to bring the water to them, they don’t know what happens after using it. We are so disconnected from the system that it’s very difficult for someone to think about themselves as part of this chain, except as a consumer, rather than someone who can impact the chain. “

Water, he concluded, “is absolutely a privilege.”

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