November 25, 2017
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Moving Beyond Water Conservation as a Way of Life

California will soon release a framework for long-term water efficiency. But there is still much to do to ensure all Californians have access to safe, reliable water, writes Joone Lopez, general manager of the Moulton Niguel Water District.

By Joone Lopez, NewsDeeply


THE LAST TWO years of statewide drought response have changed how the water industry does business. Depending on who you ask, that’s either a good thing or not. Facing historic challenges, California took unprecedented actions statewide to reduce urban water use through a series of emergency regulations, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It hasn’t been business as usual, which resulted in change and discomfort for many water agencies. Maneuvering through uncharted territories resulted in notable adjustments, financially and politically, for some agencies – fueling a yearlong debate about the right solution to ensure water reliability, as we live in a new reality where we always must use water efficiently.

Despite the fact that state mandates have created an all-time high in public awareness and that we, as a state, did almost achieve the 25 percent reduction in urban use, the effectiveness or appropriateness of the state’s role in a prolonged condition, albeit dry, continues to be questioned. And what’s next is unclear.

With the newly-released draft of the long-term water efficiency framework that the governor required, the angst is growing. The heightened emotions are not so much about the immediacy of the required actions, as several years will pass before any enforcement is exercised. But it will clearly change things, and it will be different from anything we’ve ever done before. The combination of change and uncertainty can elevate emotions.

And in these times of growing uncertainty, which we lived through for the last two years, and as we look ahead, one thing remains the same – change is inevitable and constant. While many embrace change, many others approach change with great caution and concern.

Whichever way the framework shakes out, we’re not finished. We have lots more to do, more to learn and more responsibility to improve as water providers during these challenging times.

I was recently reminded of this when I reconnected with a colleague from many years ago – someone I admired for her vision, conviction and commitment to ensure safe and reliable water for all people in every community. It helped me realize that the framework is a necessary and important step toward a greater goal of ensuring that everyone, regardless of background, income and geographic location, receives safe and reliable water.

The sooner we can move forward rather than spending valuable time arguing about the contents of the framework, the sooner we can focus on how to work together for our communities. Trying times call for new approaches to test and iterate. After all, our work as water professionals does not begin and end with what policies we adopt, but with what actions we take. Despite all the different points of view, the one thing that unites us is that the public has bestowed upon us a great responsibility to manage and care for this critical resource, and our actions or inactions can impact lives.

We will have many discussions in the months ahead about what we like and don’t like about the framework, and multiple schools of thought will prepare their advocacy to influence the legislature and hold these long-term actions to be a priority. But there’s something beyond this.

How will our actions and influence ensure that we have safe, reliable and accessible water for all? The framework answers an important part of this question but not completely. So the sooner we can reach a compromise with commitment to grow as we go and try as we learn, the sooner we can engage in a profound dialogue of what it takes to serve every Californian and what we can do together to achieve a broader community that is not limited by artificial territorial boundaries but is defined by our connection to our great of State of California.