"We should not be playing Russian roulette with Mother Nature because we will lose."
Felicia Marcus, chair, [California] State Water Resources Control Board, April 9, 2015
The 2012-2014 drought in California, according to an article in the Geophysical Research Letters, is the most severe of the past 1,200 years. In 2014 it resulted in a 6.6-million acre-feet (1 acre-foot = 43,560 cubic feet) reduction in surface water available to agriculture in 2014 and led to a crop revenue loss of $810 million!
For local governments the situation brings into focus the important topics of water conservation, sustainability, climate change, energy efficiency, and environmental protection—not to mention the related impacts on economic development and health and well-being.
What This Means for Local Government
Drought management raises important issues that local governments may already be addressing in other contexts but that become especially critical to address during a crisis:
- Emergency management. During times of serve drought, local governments need to have the needed emergency infrastructure in place to mitigate the impacts.
- Intergovernmental relations, regionalism, and collaboration. Establishing cross-sector relationships during uneventful times creates a level of trust needed to operate outside typical boundaries during times of crisis.
- Strategic planning. Drought management and water conservation require local governments to plan, anticipate, and formulate a focused approach.
- Financial management. Drought management raises a multitude of budgetary issues including new fiscal pressures with possibly fewer fiscal resources.
- Innovation and technology. The application of new technologies to the conservation of water needs to move front and center.
- Leadership. Local government managers are expected to help provide leadership and vision for their staffs, as well as the community, during times of crisis.
How Local Governments Tackle These Issues
These resources from ICMA and others highlight different strategies that local governments are implementing to address drought-related issues.
- The Southern Nevada Water Authority implemented a Water Conservation Program to reduce the repercussion of drought in the area. Through partnerships they developed an aggressive water conservation program that uses a “conservation toolbox” to promote efficiency and reduce overall water usage.
- The use of smart water meters provides customers with real-time consumption data. These meters can also eliminate or reduce labor costs and allows city staff to quickly identify leaks. In Long Beach, California one single-family home reduced consumption by 70 percent.
- The city of Santa Cruz, California, is also being commended on their drought management strategies in this article from Government Executive.
- This Alliance for Innovation paper discusses the importance of building/managing infrastructure in local governments that are sustainable and resilient to such climate change as droughts.
- This article covers the restrictions on water use for the citizens of North Richland Hills, Texas, to promote water conservation and lessen the impacts of drought in the area.
- The city of Sonoma, Arizona, is utilizing water conservative plants to help their citizens save tax dollars and lower the impact of droughts.
- The National Wildlife Federation printed a guide to provide communities with an overview of the kinds of nature-based approaches that can be used to respond to and prepare for the impacts of climate change.
- The 2014 Esri Climate Resilience App Challenge 2014 winners provide multiple technological innovations that can help local governments with drought management.
- The 2012 City of Napa, California, Sustainability Plan includes drought management initiatives, such as improvements on the water treatment plant and drought-resistant landscaping rebates (“Cash for Grass”).
- Government Technology explains grey water systems and how they can help your community conserve water during times of drought.
- This 2012 resiliency study outlines how the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, is promoting water conservation to help deal with drought and other climate changes.
- This Environmental Stewardship Policy from the town of Normal, Illinois, shows how Normal promotes its sustainable policy.
- The city of Lynchburg, Virginia, developed a drought contingency and response plan as part of its sustainability efforts.
- This Governing article explains how better management and efficiency are key in maximizing water resources in California.
- This innovative USDA tool (Evaporative Stress Index) will help communities predict when drought conditions are on the way.
Why We Care
The impact of the current drought is not limited to the state of California and the Southwest. Kerry Trueman, environmental advocate and writer for Huffington Post, points out that “California's vast agricultural industry, a $45 billion-a-year business, produces half of all our fruits and vegetables, along with a significant amount of dairy and wine.” If the impact of this drought is not mitigated, the national economy is sure to suffer.
The condition in California is an emergency, but if all local governments and their residents take responsible, sustainable approaches to their environments, the potential is there to build resilient communities nationwide.