State Capitol lawn has died

“Make it a Quickie.” That’s the slogan for the San Francisco water agency’s new ad campaign promoting shorter showers, a response to the ongoing drought crisis. But a recent state survey suggests Californians aren’t yet heeding Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to conserve. State residents have reduced water use by just 5 percent, substantially less than the 20 percent Brown has requested. For Bay Area residents, the number is only 2 percent. Is voluntary conservation enough, especially if the drought continues into the next year?

Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan research institute, and author of "Bottled and Sold"
Jeff Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California and emeritus professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Davis
John Woodling, executive director of The Regional Water Authority, which represents the interests of over 20 water providers in the greater Sacramento area

  • Skip Conrad

    Does “coping” include talking about California’s population growth? Can the water supply support 60 million people in California? How many people can the fresh water supply support?

    • Ehkzu

      It does not, because limitless population growth is sacrosanct–both to the Right and the Left. To the Right because God said “be fruitful and multiply,” and reality cannot be allowed to intrude., To the Left because most overpopulaton is non-white, and the Worst Thing on Earth is to be considered racist.

      Meanwhile the Bay Area has doubled in population since the 60s, and every city council is OK’ing developer plans to add more homes, more office buildings, as fast as they can sign them.

      So we just waddle on into a future with more people and less everything else–other species, open space, and many of life’s current comforts.

      • thucy

        To be frank, the issue isn’t entirely a larger urban population. The issue is how many precious resources, e.g. water, Americans literally flush down the toilet. The issue is American wastefulness and lack of planning on both a state and individual level. The issue is out-of-shape Americans who can’t fathom that driving a car half a mile to Trader Joe’s to buy cheese puffs and beer is not a sustainable plan.

        • Ehkzu

          It’s true that we can use water resources far more efficiently. But it’s also true that no matter how efficiently we come to use water, city councils and state legislatures just use that greater efficiency to enable–and in the Bay Area’s case, even mandate–vast population growth.

          So eventually we’ll wind up where we started, only without the ability to mitigate the problem with more efficient water use, because we’ll already have been doing that.


      • David

        Correct. Every drop we ‘conserve’ enables continued unbridled growth.

        Michael, you recently had a show on overpopulation. Why is this connection rarely made.

  • Kurt thialfad

    Why are composting toilets illegal in San Francisco?

  • Stacey

    Why isn’t the State or local water municipalities promoting greywater systems by tax credits or other programs? I hate the fact that I use potable water in my toilets, and that my shower/tub water can’t be used to water my lawn instead of potable water. But, i also don’t have a huge budget to install a greywater system myself.

    • Paul

      Very important point. We are on 20% mandatory reduction yet no support for greywater use from our water district.

    • MattCA12

      An excellent point. We paid people to buy cars during the Great Recession, but we can’t pay them to install systems to save water?

  • thucy

    “The problem is we don’t have the data.” – Peter Gleick

    This has probably not been addressed in a study but, given how water-costly petroleum production is, what impact does California’s over-reliance on gas-guzzling cars have?
    I ride everywhere on an 18-speed “Italian” bike (almost all Italian brands are having a percentage of lower-end bikes made in Taiwan and China by Giant) and many of the young women I work with ride fuel-conserving used motorcycles.
    Why isn’t the Governor pushing smaller vehicles?
    The water we save on car washes alone is significant – it takes well under a cup of water to wipe down a bicycle. The old Honda motorcycles favored by my co-workers don’t use much more.

  • trite

    Please talk about unmetered water in Sacramento/Sacramento County, and the way the legislature extended date to install these meters for several years.

    • Robert Thomas

      Sacramento doesn’t have water meters because the communities there were built when water from the Sacramento river delta was plentiful and municipal water in other California metropolitan areas wasn’t sufficiently expensive to cause the disparity to chafe. It’s not a mystery.

      Throughout the last fifty years at least, the absence of water meters on Sacramento homes and businesses has been an issue that erupts during every drought. They’ve finally caved (well before the advent of the current weather pattern) and are clumsily ameliorating this ridiculous, anachronistic state of affairs.

      Google and read

      KQED News Fix
      Sacramento Halfway Through Costly Water-Meter Marathon
      May 20, 2014, by Joe Rubin

  • Cecile Lusby

    I chose to buy a small farm (2 acres) in the flatlands outside Santa Rosa with an 80 feet deep well in 1971. I pay PG&E for the electricity to keep my pump that delivers my water operating. But this morning I heard that farmers and orchard owners in the Central Valley are paying 1Million dollars to drill wells that are 2500 feet deep. I could not believe that we are allowing private money, wealthy individuals to tap into a water supply that serves the general public. You cannot drill down more that a thousand feet and call that private property.

  • Chemist150

    We need another water line, grey water, to compliment the processed water. In Hong Kong, it’s sea water. It can be used to wash dishes, car washes, etc.
    In the case of CA, we could capture runoff before it reaches the ocean and that could be used to dilute the sea water to make it acceptable for watering lawns.
    Desalination is a good idea too to be use in conjunction with grey water.
    Having written the White House suggesting water projects when they first decided to appropriate a lot of money to “stimulate” the economy, I’m a severely disappointed at the divvying of the money among all small groups to pave roads that didn’t need new paving.

  • MonaLS

    Some folks don’t seem to be getting the message. When I go for walks around the neighborhood, I see sprinklers watering lawns with water running off into the street and soaking the sidewalks. What a waste.

    • thucy

      Wouldn’t it be great if law enforcement protected what was really a matter of public safety – water sustainability?

  • K.A.AM

    I’ve seen water used (without restrain) to clean the streets here in SanFrancisco that have been soiled with human wastes the night before. It’s a lot of water used, but the streets have to be cleaned otherwise the pungent smell is just overwhelming, particularly in the midst of warm summer afternoon. Ideas?

    • Nancy

      At the end of April 2014, I saw a Recology Cleanscapes ( using fresh water to power wash the sidewalk outside a building on King Street. To see this agency using fresh drinking water in this manner was very disturbing. Options – Brooms, greywater?

      • K.A.AM

        Thanks for providing the link. I should do more research and then write to the City about plausible ways to clean the streets, and still conserve water.

  • kaigh

    can you please talk about new construction. all the short showers in the state can’t slow the water use when new construction is still out of control.

    • Ehkzu

      And note that new residential construction has been mandated by the state legislature–sweet for developers and building trade unions and public employee unions–not so sweet for the rest of us.

  • Chemist150

    Actually, many of the rice fields are now dry. I just drove by some this weekend. I’m happy to see that.

  • Doug

    I grandfather worked on the California Aqueduct, designed the Yuma, Denver, and Eastern Washington agriculture water delivery systems, and obviously understood the issues, when more than 50 years ago he thought all these systems should become buried or at least covered systems, and talked about the change of agriculture from trees to dry weather crops. Why, if this discussion has been going on since the development of our main water trunk, has there not been change?

  • Another Mike

    Growing up in suburbia, we had both a septic tank for the kitchen and bathroom, and a small tank and distribution for the laundry drain. So grey water irrigated our property.

  • Nicole

    What about difference between water usage in counties. Let’s all be held accountable.
    For instance, places like Hillsborough, Palm Springs – these are the places
    that are wasting water.

  • Ehkzu

    No one has yet mentioned the fact that our porous aquifers–source of most well water–are not actually a renewable resource. When they’re overpumped (and they’re all being overpumped), the aquifer’s loose rock formation collapses and loses its ability to hold water.

    The only alternative is a massive, multibillion-dollar reservoir building project, which is not happening. Meanwhile, not only are rich agribusinesses stealing their neighbors’ water with massive pumps, they’re guaranteeing that the effects of the next drought will be even worse.

  • tom knoll

    In 2009-10, I ran a food security project in central India. This is a region that has experienced an epidemic of farmer suicides over the past 15 years. I partnered with a local non-government organization, the Watershed Organization Trust. Their focus was on watershed reclamation. They would do this through intensive land-scaping, check-dams and the like, to retain as much of the seasonal monsoon rain-water as possible. They won the 2010 Kyoto World Water Prize through this technique and I personally witnessed whole watersheds that had been transformed, within a five year period of time, raising the water-table by several meters and creating landscapes of abundant cultivated foliage and food.It was amazing to exit these watersheds and see nothing but desert.
    Additionally, my project was focused on aquaponics for several villages. Aquaponics uses up to 95% less water than traditional agriculture. It can be scaled vertically in urban areas and is a great way to repurpose old, out-of-use warehouse buildings. This has the added effects of a greater multiplier effect of dollars spent in local economies, sustainable fish production, and decreased carbon foot-print since most meals in urban American regions travel up to 1500 miles to arrive on our plates.

  • L A

    What do you think of variable water pricing for spring-fall when gardens are watered? This would help eliminate lawns and encourage people to plant low water use and drought tolerant plants.

  • Ehkzu

    Why does Calfornia’s state government ask us to use 20% less water, while at the same time requiring many Bay Area cities to increase their population by millions of people overall?

    Last time I checked, every individual needs water to live.

  • belle stafford

    It boggles my mind that by far the biggest user of our water, and our land, is the farming of animals for us to eat. No one, including all the big environmental groups.ever addresses this big “elephant in the room:”, Please, everyone, see the new documentary called COWSPIRACY for mind blowing statistics on how much water is being used and how quickly theAmazon and Indonesian rainforests are being decimated, an acre a second, to raise crops to feed to livestock. It takes 2000 gallons of water to make 1 pound of hamburger, 12-15 gallons for a pound of lettuce. We need to stop eating meat, there’s no 2 ways about it. People just don’t want to make changes, and/or they don’t realize the huge waste of resources involved. The farming of animals for food, 10 billion land animals each year in the US alone, is unsustainable.People just haven’t realized it yet. Another excellent resource on this subject is the book “Comfortably Unaware” by Dr. Richard Oppenlander.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    The messaging as outreach from the state and local authorities (PUC in SF, for example) has been near NON-EXISTENT. Car washing, lawn watering go on unabated by all the homes I travel by daily. As for commercial users, I still recall Lucasfilm in the The Presidio, now owned by Disney, where the sprinklers run daily even after it rains. Anyone can go to the corner of Torney and O’Reilly Streets and the lawn is so over-watered, you sink in the grass up to your shoe tops. Where are the water cops??

  • MattCA12

    Bottom line, water is far too cheap. People just turn on the tap and expect it to flow out, which it always does. They need to see a few diamonds going down the drain as they brush their teeth, THEN they will turn off the taps.

  • danbunderhill
  • Roy-in-Boise

    It’s not that there is not enough water or water is used inefficiently … The crux of the problem is that there are too many people. Amen

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor