California’s Drought Is So Bad, They’re Shutting Off Showers for Surfers

Don't laugh—some cities have cut water use 30 percent as the state continues to dry up.

(Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)

Oct 14, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

Getting out of the water at my local surf break in Pacifica, a beach town just south of San Francisco, I went to rinse off my wet suit and surfboard at the oceanfront showers, only to find this sign: “Due to the drought the available shower heads are reduced. Please limit shower time.”

Yes, you can laugh that California’s epic drought is even hitting people who spend their time in the water. Or that, finally, urban dwellers are feeling the pinch of an environmental catastrophe that has devastated the state’s farms and ranches.

Yet the move by Pacifica to shut off showers at popular surf spots is a sign that coastal cities, where the bulk of California’s population resides, are belatedly getting serious about saving water. And a new report from the California Water Resources Control Board shows that such efforts are making a difference.

For instance, the North Coast County Water District, which serves Pacifica’s 39,000 residents, has cut its water consumption 26 percent in August compared with the previous year. That means on average, each Pacifica resident used about 2,434 gallons of water in August.

(Photo: Todd Woody)

That helped California cut statewide water consumption by 11.5 percent in August, up from 7.5 percent in July, and 4 percent in June, according to the report.

That still falls short of Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for a 20 percent cut in consumption. And big cities like Los Angeles aren’t exactly drying up. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported that water use dropped by just less than 1 percent in August, while in San Diego water consumption inched up by nearly 1 percent. (San Franciscans are water misers in comparison, reducing consumption by 8.4 percent in August over the previous year.)

Still, water use in Southern California as a whole fell 7.8 percent in August, compared with 1.6 percent in July. Southland residents have filed applications to rip out 3.8 million square feet of their water-sucking lawns in exchange for rebates. Businesses, meanwhile, have applied for rebates to retire 7.5 million square feet of turf, the water board said.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive order requiring L.A. to cut water use 20 percent by 2017 and slash imported water 50 percent by 2024. He ordered city departments to reduce lawn watering and take other measures to cut consumption and said if Angelenos don’t voluntarily cut water use, then additional mandatory restrictions would be imposed on watering lawns, washing cars, and—gasp—filling swimming pools.

“Many more California communities are taking the drought seriously and making water conservation a priority—and residents are responding,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the state water board, said in a statement. “Increasing urban water conservation is definitely a good thing. The trend is terrific. However, while we can hope for rain, we can’t count on it, so we must keep going. Every gallon saved today postpones the need for more drastic, difficult, and expensive action should the drought continue into next year.”

In other words, California could go the way of Santa Cruz. The famed surf town 75 miles south of San Francisco does not import water and thus has enforced severe restrictions as supplies have dried up, giving each household a monthly ration of water and levying stiff penalties for exceeding that allotment.

For instance, a family of four gets 249 gallons a day—the average American uses about 100 gallons daily—and must pay $25 for every excess 748 gallons they use a month. If excess use exceeds 10 percent of the monthly allotment, the penalty jumps to $50 for every 748 gallons.

The result: Santa Cruz cut its water use nearly 30 percent in September, compared with the previous year, and consumption has fallen almost 20 percent just since May.

Needless to say, surfers can forget about showering at the beach.