Should California Stop Saving Water Now?

Here’s a question you probably never expected to hear from Californians. Many people are now asking state officials if they can go back to their old ways and stop saving water.

In some respects, it’s a fair question. After all, earlier in the year, state agencies reported that California recorded more rainfall water by February than in a typical year, and the state still has a couple of good rainfall months to go.

The Sierra Nevada have 73 percent more water than normal, and it is estimated 350 billion gallons of water have poured into the state’s reservoirs in the past 12 months. That’s all good news. But here’s the hard reality: That could all change next year.

With more water today than in years, the need for water efficiency and saving water is required more than ever.

While many states and countries around the world are lucky enough to have “normal” weather patterns, California has never had what could be called a normal weather pattern. Some years it's colder than others; some years hotter; there’s more rainfall one year and less rainfall the next; it can’t be predicted.

This also means there is not necessarily a “new normal” in which the state can expect water shortages and droughts on a regular basis. If there never was a recognized normal weather pattern, how can there be a new normal weather pattern?

Historically, after a severe drought such as the state endured for the past four years, when things get better – in this case much better due to rainfall amounts – state officials are quick and happy to let consumers and businesses start using water blissfully. However, beginning in the 1980s with a growing population and a robust economy, state officials became reluctant to repeat this step.

What state officials are trying to do this time is build on the water efficiency measures taken over the past four years that helped the state deal with the drought. The state’s governor does not want to lift the water restrictions that were imposed in 2016.*  While legally he may be required to do so, he says he wants to make water efficiency “a lifestyle” in the state. In many ways that is what is happening, whether it is legally mandated or the result of individual consumers and businesses.

And there are some solid reasons for this. For instance, we already know there is no normal weather pattern in California, especially when it comes to rainfall. There are some other tangible reasons as well.

For example, while the state’s capital, Sacramento, has had ample rainfall in the past year, it is not going to be able to keep very much of the water. Instead, a significant amount of water is already being delivered to neighboring farmers who have suffered considerably due to the drought.

And then there is another problem. One of the ways California has survived the past few years is by pulling water out of underground aquifers. Why are aquifers important?  These are the state’s water savings account, but look what’s happened. The aquifers in the state’s Central Valley fell by more than 40 million square feet. State officials monitoring 1,650 wells have found that a third decreased by more than 10 feet in the past four years, with some dropping more than 100 feet.

The reality is that to replenish the state’s water savings account could take many years of ample rainfall, and many officials believe it’s already too late. Those aquifers will likely never reach the water levels they had just four years ago.

So, to answer our question, can we stop saving water now, the answer is no. What the state must do, like so many areas of the country and around the world, is keep developing and investing in systems and technologies that reduce water consumption permanently. The more ways we can figure out how to go waterless, the better it will be.

For more information on water savings , water efficiency, and waterless technologies, visit

*Update: As of April 2017, the water saving restrictions imposed in California as of 2016 were lifted.