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What Did California Learn From The Drought?

Mike Jenson / Merced Irrigation District

Lake McClure Reservoir during the drought California in 2015.

Mike Jenson / Merced Irrigation District

A report from the Public Policy Institute of California says the state's cities and suburbs responded well to the unprecedented mandate to cut water use by 25 percent during the drought.

The PPIC says by some measures, the state’s water conservation requirement was a success. Californians cut water use 24 percent on average while the economy grew. But report authors call the mandate a “blunt instrument” that increased tension between the state and local water agencies.

Instead, the report notes the strategy state regulators implemented near the end of the drought was more appropriate. The so-called "stress test" required local agencies prove they had enough water for three dry years. The PPIC says this "trust but verify" tactic served  the state as well as urban and suburban water suppliers.

“This is a good approach going forward," says Ellen Hanak, director and senior fellow at the PPIC.  "There’s no way in a state as large and geographically diverse as California, that the state, from Sacramento, is going to be in a position to know better than the local managers what the conditions are locally.”

Hanak says water supply data that local agencies had to collect and submit to the state was another positive outcome. She says those reporting requirements should be made permanent. It provides both a good way to measure water use over the long term and provides a better baseline for analyzing conservation during drought.

“This is just a good piece of data that’s not very costly,” says Hanak.


 California drought

Amy Quinton

Former Environment Reporter

Amy came to Sacramento from New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) where she was Environment Reporter. Amy has also reported for NPR member stations WFAE in Charlotte, WAMU in Washington D.C. and American Public Media's "Marketplace."  Read Full Bio 

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