California Drought: Why Are People Not Cutting Back?


Water is vital for life. A man can go weeks without food but he can typically only survive three days without water. In the past societies have been devastated and it is even likely that the Mayan civilization was wiped out due to a 150 year drought. Yet Californians are living in a declared state of emergency drought and many do not even know it—more than that, many people are not cutting back.

California is now on its third year of a historic drought and all of the state is affected by it on some levels. The places that are most hard hit are in Central California, where huge amounts of water are being consumed for agricultural needs and where many people in this country and in this world get their food from. As of July 8, 36 percent of California has been ranked as an “exceptional drought” which is the highest level of severity according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The notion of a drought is still a far-away concept in many cities. According to records from the Bay Area water agencies, there has only been a minimal decrease in water usage, and some areas have even increased the amount of water used from last year like San Diego. A recent survey shows that only 5 percent of water usage has been reduced as a whole since Gov. Jerry Brown declared California in a state of emergency in Jan. of this year and urged everyone to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20 percent.

CaliforniaIf California is truly in a state of emergency and the drought is severe, why has there not been an increase in mandatory cutbacks and rationing in people’s water usage? Up to this point, 70 percent of the water companies still have not placed a restriction on household consumption, even though by doing so it would greatly reduce usage.

The drought and water rationing is still a very political and economic issue. On an economic level, agencies will lose money if people cut back on their water usage. The L.A. Metropolitan district says that they will lose $150 million by just cutting things water usage by 20 percent. However, some agencies have raised water rates in the past because they still have employees that need to be paid and the business still needs to run.

Some also believe that water will not run out as fast because of the advancement in water conservation technologies and supplies. Since the last drought in 1987-1992, the L.A. Metropolitan Water District has built a huge reservoir that has the capacity to store water for 5 million people per year. In addition, they have been recycling waste water. They are actually delivering 25 percent less water to those living in that region compared to what they gave in 1990.

When water does not seem like it is running out and there are no restrictions or penalties being given, majority of the people’s habits will continue as before, as indicated by the statewide survey. Lawns are still lush. Trees are still standing tall. People are still taking long showers and doing half-loads of laundry. There is little sense of urgency because people are not faced with the consequences and the reality of the drought on a daily level.

However, for several of the communities that have enacted water usage restriction, they have witnessed immediate results. St. Helena City located in Napa Valley already started rationing their each person to 65 gallons per day, which is one-third of the entire state average usage. In addition, they charge households $374 for every 748 gallons that exceed the limit. If they continue overusing water, the fines will triple on the fifth offense. Mayor Ann Nevero states of St. Helena states that people need to know that this drought is extremely serious. After the first couple weeks of this restriction being enacted, water usage fell by a hefty 33 percent.

A study done by the University of California, Davis estimates that the entire cost of the drought for the economy is an estimated $2.2 billion. If drought continues onto next year, the Central Valley alone is expected to lose another $1 billion. Researchers say that California’s drought will most likely continue onto next year, therefore, people’s need to cut back on water will have to also increase.

By Joyce Chu

History Channel

Drought Monitor

Business Insider

Mercury News

NY Times

SF Gate

USA Today

One Response to "California Drought: Why Are People Not Cutting Back?"

  1. Brian Brown   September 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Raise the price based on supply and demand. If there is a shortage with high demand, high prices!

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