California loosened some water restrictions this week but also made some conservation rules permanent, reacting to a crippling four-year drought. Despite significant gains made by El Nino, the state wasn't expected to get back to pre-drought levels and it hasn't.
A report from Wired today makes the case that the drought may, in fact, be here to stay:
"In California, drought is a but a geographic construct. A statewide network of reservoirs, canals, pipes, and pumps connect the dry places to the wet. 'We import from Northern California and the Colorado River, and we saw an improvement in supply conditions, particularly up north, that allows us to ease restrictions on our allocation,' says Bob Muir, spokesperson for the agency. Who needs rain when you've got plumbing?"
The Municipal Water District of Southern California has eased water restrictions for the 19 million residents in California's largest urban district, Wired reported. Meanwhile, the "entire Municipal 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."
California Gov. Jerry Brown called drought in the state "a regular occurrence" this week in a press release. "California droughts are expected to be more frequent and persistent, as warmer winter temperatures driven by climate change reduce water held in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and result in drier soil conditions."
"Recognizing these new conditions, the executive order directs permanent changes to use water more wisely and efficiently, and prepare for more frequent, persistent periods of limited supply."
Snowpack rebounded this year, though at the point in most of the state it's half of what's normal -- or less, especially in the southern part of the state, according to California's Department of Water Resources. Environmentalists warned that it's not yet time to open up the taps.
"I'm not opposed to giving districts more leeway in determining what they do," Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, told Wired. "But I do worry that this is too soon to be easing up on the conservation and efficiency measures that have just barely been put in place over the past couple of years."