The 6th Street Bridge connecting downtown LA with its eastern districts is reflected in the Los Angeles River, 27 January 2016. Photo: Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images

By Nick Stockton
13 May 2016

(Wired) – Drought is a tricky thing to define. It is not just a matter of how little water falls out of the sky. If it were, you would be forgiven for believing that California’s wettish winter had ended, or even alleviated, the worst drought in state history. But no. Despite the snow in the Sierra Nevada, the water filling Lake Shasta, and the rapids in the Kern River, California is still in a state of drought. For now, maybe forever.

Even the governor thinks so. On May 9, Jerry Brown issued an executive order that makes permanent certain emergency water cuts from the past few years. “Now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

The most impactful part of Brown’s order requires that cities submit monthly water use, conservation, and enforcement reports to state officials. The order also promises updates to both urban and rural drought preparedness guidelines, and bans wasteful things like washing your car without a shut-off nozzle, or hosing down sidewalks. (The wastefulness of that last one is debatable if you’ve ever taken a walk through San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood the morning after a Giants game.)

However, at the same meeting officials from the State Water Resources Control Board—California’s water police—indicated that cities would no longer be required to meet strict efficiency goals that the governor ordered last year. “Even though there are some areas that do not have adequate water supply, there are others that do. So this lets local officials decide based on their own resources,” says Timothy Moran, spokesperson for the Board.

So, obviously, the largest urban water district in the state went ahead and made it easier to drink. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is home to 19 million thirsty residents in a near contiguous suburban sprawl reaching from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border. On May 10, the MWD eliminated stiff rationing and overuse fees for the cities and smaller sub districts that buy from it.

Which is kind of insane. The entire Metropolitan Water District is in either Extreme or Exceptional Drought. Those are technical terms, by the way, defined by a government agency. They mean a region’s precipitation, streamflow, reservoir storage, and soil moisture are in the 1 to 5 percent ranges of normal. [more]

Thanks El Niño, But California’s Drought Is Probably Forever



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