Wednesday, May 28, 2014




          As expected, it’s now late spring and water rationing is upon California. Despite the heavy mid-February rains that briefly drenched Northern California and the respectable ensuing snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, drought remains.

          It may seem odd, but the opening compulsory rationing measures have come in Northern California, closer to the big rivers now carrying lower-than-usual runoff from the high mountains than the big cities to the south, where water conservation is voluntary, so far.

          Reasons for this include the fact that the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California draws supplies from the Colorado
River in addition to the Bay Delta region through most of Northern
California’s water flows. The Met has also spent many millions of
dollars over the last 20 years to increase its storage capacity, creating
new reservoirs and upping underground storage.

          So some of the first serious compulsory rationing comes in places
on the fringes of the San Francisco Bay Area, cities like Pleasanton
and Dublin and Santa Cruz, which get much of their water from
local supplies or the state Water Project, but don’t have access to the
water San Francisco draws from its Hetch Hetchy reservoir near
Yosemite National Park.

          Rationing is sensible in some places – like Santa Cruz, where
all homes are now limited to 1,000 cubic feet of water per month, or
about 249 gallons per day. Local officials say the limits are needed
because the area's streams have all but dried up long before their wet
season would normally end.

          But in other places, like Pleasanton, a city of 70,000 on the
eastern edge of the East Bay area, residents and businesses are
compelled to use no more than 75 percent of the water they used at
the same time last year. The more you used in 2013, the more you
can use today without paying penalties, which can see water bills
double or triple upon a first offense and rise on subsequent

          So the water profligates of a year ago have an advantage over
anyone who conserved water in 2013, when there was already
drought, just not as severe. In short, if neighbors each had lawns of
the same size and one watered freely last year, with no regard for
conservation, but the other installed a drip irrigation system and cut
water use substantially, the one who conserved now can use far less
than his profligate neighbor. How fair is that?

          Inequitable situations like this were common in the major
drought of the 1970s, when homeowners or businesses who saw
drought worsening and realized rationing would ensue sometimes
increased their water use to make sure they would have a good
supply once rationing took hold. No one can prove anybody did
that this year, but it’s very possible and it’s a major flaw where cities
ration according to past use.

          Other water use inequities abound, too. How fair is it that
drought or no drought, Sacramento residents (including tens of
thousands of state officials and bureaucrats) use an average of 279
gallons per day, compared with 98 gallons for San Franciscans and
less than 150 per day for Los Angeles residents, whom Northern
Californians habitually accuse of profligacy? Or for residents of ritzy
Hillsborough on the San Francisco Peninsula to use 334 gallons of
water daily, on average, to just 79 for those in far less fortunate East
Palo Alto?

          Plus, while there’s a water metering program in progess in the
Central Valley, about half the homes there still no have water meters
at all, so owners or tenants can use all they want with no penalties.

          As Southern Californians watch this and realize that given
another year of drought, they will also be rationed, plenty will realize
that the more they use now, the more they’ll be able to use later –
unless water rationing is done on a strict per capita basis. 

          Yes, it can sometimes be difficult to know how many persons
reside in each household, but Census data can help – taken in 2010,
it’s still useful. Any household feeling short-changed could complain
and prove it has more occupants than the Census showed.

          That’s not a perfect system, but if adopted statewide, would at
least be more fair than the patchwork of systems gradually being
imposed now, with rationing just beginning and already starting to
lean toward the unfair.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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