Across The Universe: ‘D’ in drought shouldn’t stand for water apathy (opinion) |

Across The Universe: ‘D’ in drought shouldn’t stand for water apathy (opinion)

Kevin MacMillan

On Tuesday, I received a press release blaring the headline, “Strong Statewide Conservation Effort in March; Water-Saving Habits Aid in 24.3 Percent Reduction.”

The release from the State Water Resources Control Board of California came a little more than a year (April Fools’ Day 2015) after Gov. Jerry Brown signed his historic 25 percent water conservation order after making a trip to the Tahoe region to witness firsthand last year’s terrible snowpack.

Since, that order has been bolstered by addenda that urge more conservation as the Western drought continues. Just this February, for example, the state water board OK’d a regulation that extends restrictions on urban water use through October 2016.

Over the past many months, it’s been well documented in this newspaper and media outlets across the state how residents and agencies are striving to conserve, and for the most part, it appears progress is being made.

Let’s look at March of this year. According to Tuesday’s figures from the state water board, Californians consumed 24.3 percent less water when compared to the amount used in March 2013 — a figure that also is double February’s savings.

Further, statewide cumulative savings from June 2015 to March 2016 totaled 23.9 percent compared with the same months in 2012-13, equating to nearly 1.3 million acre-feet of water. The board says the statistics are “evidence that residents and businesses remain concerned about the persistent drought now in its fifth year.”

To quantify that statement, the board points to a recent Field Poll that indicates a majority of residents characterized the drought as “extremely serious” heading into April 2016, with three quarters of those polled committed to ongoing water conservation.

But let’s take a deeper look. According to that random poll, 76 percent of respondents (a survey of 800 registered voters in California) in October 2015 felt the drought was “extremely serious.”

Farther back, 66 percent in May 2015 saw it as “extremely serious,” while 68 percent did in February 2015. A similar Field Study survey done in April 2014 showed that figure at 60 percent.

One more data set — let’s look at the difference in opinion from April 2016 (62 percent statewide) versus October 2015 (76 percent) by way of California’s three main regions:

Northern California: 79 percent last October, versus 68 percent now.

Southern California: 74 percent October, 60 percent now.

Central Valley: 79 percent October, 58 percent now.

What this all tells me is, yes, many of us are doing a great job conserving water and understanding the drought is still a big deal.

But, after a strong 2015-16 winter season in the state, including here at Lake Tahoe, it appears that concern is waning. To see a 14 percent drop across the state (and 21 percent in the Central Valley!), it makes me wonder how quickly some may forget the importance of saving our water.

Drought or no drought, conserving water should always be at top of mind. The way I was taught, 62 percent was a D-minus — and 58 percent was a failing grade.

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. He may be reached at

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