The Corner

Politics & Policy

Conservation Isn’t the Solution to California’s Water Problems

In January, California’s Jerry Brown became the first governor in the state’s history to declare a state of emergency for a drought and a flood simultaneously. On Friday, Brown lifted the drought emergency in all but four counties (Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolumne counties). But, rather than lift the burdensome water regulations implemented to cope with the drought, he announced that many of those regulations would remain intact, even though the flood emergency remains.

Brown’s latest plan, “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life,” allows the state to oversee conservation goals it sets in urban water-management agencies, as well as to permanently prohibit activities it deems wasteful of the water supply. It also creates more stringent standards for establishing these water-use goals.

Brown has indicated that he hopes to expand the state’s water supply with new sources of water, but his focus on making conservation “a way of life” — in a time when California’s streets are flooding — suggests otherwise. Certainly, Californians — and everyone else — ought to find ways to responsibly use natural resources such as water. Mandating conservation, however, is drastically different from incentivizing it.

Even though there is no longer a drought state of emergency in their state, Californians will be fined if they wash their automobiles with hoses “not equipped with a shut-off nozzle,” water lawns in a way that results in water run-off, or hose off sidewalks. The plan also gives urban government agencies until 2025 to comply with their conservation targets, limiting the water usage of Californians.

But water conservation can only go so far. California ought to begin expanding its water supply rather than incessantly regulate how citizens use water, especially now that the governor doesn’t retain the broad powers spelled out under the drought state of emergency (Brown’s flood state of emergency doesn’t give him the same power to regulate water use).

John Woodling of the Sacramento Regional Water Authority told the Sacramento Bee that Brown’s assertion of state power in this area will give it “permanent, unchecked control over local water management decisions.” And, as Brown’s plan begins to drive water consumption down, Woodling said, it could hurt the economy.

Governor Brown has pushed two contradictory agendas for months. Now, even he has concluded that California is no longer in a drought. It’s time for these conservation regulations to be lifted and for the state to do what it should have done a long time ago: look to expand its water supply.

Austin Yack — Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute and a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus.

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