California

How a Fake Rationing Scare Highlighted the Absurdity of California's Actual Water Policies

No, Californians aren't banned from showering and doing laundry on the same day. But the fact that so many people believed that lie says something about how insane the state's real water laws are.

|

Stamping out incorrect social-media information is like trying to halt those computer viruses that multiply bad files every time you close one. You can sometimes convince someone that the story isn't quite right—only to see it pop up on myriad other feeds. After trying to serve as the "truth police" recently, I finally gave up. There are so many real problems to worry about, but lots of people seem determined to be upset by bogus ones.

The specific story involved water rationing. Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed two conservation-related laws in 2018 that were supposedly going into effect on Jan. 1. According to various social-media and blog posts, the new laws banned Californians from showering and doing laundry on the same day. Apparently, water inspectors would monitor each person's water usage—and impose fines of $1,000 a day on water-wasting scofflaws.

In reality, the laws do not impose any such individual water limits. They "set water efficiency standards for utilities to follow in the decades to come," explained The Sacramento Bee. The 55-gallon daily standards are systemwide average targets (by 2023). Any fines would come from the agencies, so ratepayers could technically be on the hook—but only in an indirect way. The allotments are close to the water levels Californians typically use in a day, anyway.

Nevertheless, it's obvious why this fake news spread faster than water flowing over Oroville Dam's collapsing spillway. It was yet another example of California's wacky progressive politics, and the way lawmakers force residents to change their lives in the name of environmental uplift. Because the information was inaccurate, liberal wonks could easily dismiss the hullaballoo as a conspiracy theory with no connection to reality.

Yet despite the story's bogus claims, conservatives are onto something serious—namely, a state water policy that prioritizes environmental interests over human uses, and that ultimately could lead to the kind of rationing that some people wrongly believed was happening now. The outrage is California policy makers have time to deal with a coming water crisis, but are doing little to avert it. Many seem almost eager for a world of rationing and limits.

The state's historic drought is over, but Gov. Gavin Newsom is pushing a conservation-heavy approach to the water crisis and even is suing to stop the Trump administration's plan to release more water for farms. California's lawmakers haven't built serious new water infrastructure in decades, since the time when the state's population was roughly half its current size.

If you don't build freeways, you shouldn't wonder why the roads are constantly jammed.  If you don't build water storage, you shouldn't wonder why the reservoirs are empty during a drought. California officials don't do much of either, no matter how many tax increases voters approve.

Depending on whose statistics one uses, between 48 percent and 65 percent of California's water flows unimpeded to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of building new dams to capture water during wet years, California is, for instance, engaged in the largest dam-busting project in the nation—as it plans to demolish some dams on the Klamath River along the Oregon border.

In the midst of the drought, state and federal officials were depleting reservoirs to help a few salmon swim toward the Pacific (where they're eaten by bass on the way). That epitomizes the state's water policies—a constant push for "pulse flows," and less emphasis on saving water for cities and farms. Californians have passed multiple water bonds over the past few years, but very little of it funds new storage. In fact, recent bond money is going to help tear down those Klamath dams, thus reducing storage.

The 602-foot Shasta Dam in the far north was actually designed to reach 800 feet. A plan to raise it a mere 18.5 feet—providing enough water to fill two-thirds of Folsom Lake—has been scuttled after steadfast opposition from environmentalists and state officials. These policies aren't even helping fish populations, but serve as a handy excuse to always deprive Californians of the water that helps our communities thrive.

"Droughts are nature's fault," said U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R–Calif.). "But water shortages are our fault. They are a deliberate choice we made in the 1970s when we made the construction of new reservoirs endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost prohibitive."

Ultimately, we can pursue water abundance or scarcity. That Bee story rebutting the water-rationing scare quotes a State Water Resources Control Board official who thinks a target of only 40 to 45 gallons a person is more reasonable. That gives the game away. The state can keep lowering the targets until there's no choice but to ration water.

Sure, those social-media posts were wrong to suggest that water-rationing policies already have arrived in California. But unless state officials take a different approach to water policy, that day may be coming sooner than we think.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: January 24, 1968

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The story left me thirsting for more information.

  2. Wow Amazing I learnt more information

  3. Have they banned dihydrogen monoxide yet?

  4. They used some estimates of how much water a shower uses and how much a load of laundry (or three) takes.

    They argue that a day where you both shower and launder will exceed the target.

    This seems like a reasonable way to translate a number into real world experience.

    For the inspections etc, perhaps they confuse California with Britain?

    1. The statists, and their barely in the closer apologists don’t want anyone getting ahead of the game.

  5. There are so many real problems to worry about, but lots of people seem determined to be upset by bogus ones

    Affluence + Internet = ^this

  6. After trying to serve as the “truth police” recently, I finally gave up.

    And you should since you’re so terrible at it.

    Any fines would come from the agencies, so ratepayers could technically be on the hook—but only in an indirect way.

    How insane you characterize something as a “lie” because the impact is indirect instead of direct. Libertarians constantly explain the indirect impacts are real impacts in thousands of cases – it’s almost like this is the entire point of our economic understanding.

    But someone else doing it is the opportunity to grandstand so “indirect” miraculously becomes a “lie”. What pathetic grandstanding.

  7. Why don’t you mention the REAL water limitations for Commifornia?

    Time-of-day Watering Restrictions

  8. “The outrage is California policy makers have time to deal with a coming water crisis, but are doing little to avert it. Many seem almost eager for a world of rationing and limits.”

    Ya think? More power and control for California policy makers- what’s not to like?

    1. Many seem almost eager for a world of rationing and limits.

      That’s some remarkable bravery in hinting at the truth for someone living in the Democratic People’s Republic. We feel for you, Steve, we understand your dangerous position as a counter-revolutionary within the belly of the beast and we see your figurative Morse code blinking. We know what you’re trying to say and we know what would happen to you if you actually said it.

  9. a target of only 40 to 45 gallons a person is more reasonable
    I’m curious what all is intended to be included when they try to quantify how much water is used ‘per person per day’

    Is it strictly use in the home? Or are they trying to use some formula to adjust it to include water used at work and school, and guesses as to how many people use laundromats vs home washing, and a bunch of other stuff?

    If its just strictly

  10. A state with an enormous coastline and lots of sun. Solar powered desalinization for the environmentally concerned. Evaporate and distill fresh water with the entire Pacific Ocean as a reservoir.

    1. Israel’s getting close to supplying half their water via desalinization plants. It’s about five times as expensive as their natural water sources, but those are maxed out, so then what else can you do?

      Note that “five times as expensive” still translates to “55 cents per cubic meter” wholesale, or approximately 4 cents for a shower. After markup that may be expensive enough to make you consider xeriscaping, but further household water restrictions aren’t “conservation”, they’re “mortification of the flesh”. The same people would be telling you to wear a hair shirt if only they could pull off a cotton shortage scare.

      1. “The same people would be telling you to wear a hair shirt if only they could pull off a cotton shortage scare.”

        Don’t give them any ideas.

      2. But only for you. Somehow, I doubt all of the mansions on Sunset or Mulholland will be under the same restrictions. Maybe it’ll be necessary for the movie industry that all of those estates can use the water they need. Seems to be the way a lot of otherwise inconvenient laws in CA are ignored.

    2. And the saline discharge can actually do wonders for some fisheries.

      But that would be entirely anti-Malthusian, and the progressive left is nothing if not the Church of Malthus. The problems of scarcity simply must be solved by the coercive state, and certainly not by human ingenuity and productivity.

  11. “There are so many real problems to worry about,”

    Like calling the laws “inside” instead of “insane” in your subtitle?

    1. Koch money will buy editorial positions, but it will not by editing.

    2. Good job decoding! I’d been trying to figure that one out. I ran out of ideas for de-autocorrecting it (although “insidious” seemed plausible) figured it must be a clever way to say they were undemocratic, formulated by insiders, possibly even semi-secret.

      1. insidious is more pretentious so you might be right

  12. Israel spent about $500 million to build a desalination plant to provide fresh water to 1.5 million people.

    California is spending over 100 times that amount to build a train line between Bakersfield and Merced.

    1. How else are you going to get Hispanic farm workers to the farms that need them multiple times a day?

  13. “But the fact that so many people believed that lie says something about how inside the state’s real water laws are.” Is this a new use of the word “inside” that has passed me by? Or did the headline writer mean another word — maybe insidious? What does it mean if a water law is inside?

  14. It’s going to take weeks to fill up that new 55 gallon fish tank I just bought.

  15. Just exactly how do you think the utility companies are going to meet “water efficiency standards” except by passing them on to consumers? Utilities don’t use water themselves. Unless you think that 55 gallons is evaporative loss in the settling ponds or something. Are you really unaware that today’s “goal” becomes tomorrow’s mandate with enforcers in your front yard?

    This comment not approved by Silicon Valley brain slugs.

    1. Vesicant is exactly right. That makes the mandate a form a collective punishment. It won’t matter whether I use less than 55 gallons per day, if the average in the water district is more than 55 gallons per person per day, the whole district will pay, with those compliant subsidizing those who did not comply.

      The law is pointless for its stated purpose. If the goal were to reduce total water use in California, why is residential water use, which is less than 10% of the total state water use, the only use that is restricted? Why is residential water use for pools and gardening exempt from the restrictions?

  16. honest online career from home Earns upto $550 to $750 doller by way of work is simple on web. i have made $28K only month via chipping away on internet. Its right way and easy home work maybe a piece adolescent can complete this movement on web and benefits….. Read more  

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.