El Niño has come and gone. Though one of the strongest in history, the most recent El Niño event did not provide the soaking that drought-stricken California hoped for and so desperately needed. While northern California has emerged from drought, at least for now, more than 70% of the Golden State remains dangerously dry. In response to the slight positive changes, California Governor Jerry Brown has lifted statewide restrictions on water, allowing districts to set their own local regulations. But water conservation groups such as the California Coastkeeper Alliance question whether the wealthy areas, who use three times as much water as the non-affluent, will take the necessary steps to preserve water in a drier California.
During the enforcement of statewide water restrictions, poor communities suffered from lack of access to water. Meanwhile, wealthy areas like Beverly Hills seemed not to notice the ban and continued to use an excessive amount of water. In October 2015, Beverly Hills was fined $61,000 for its defiance of the water restrictions. Some wealthy Californians argue that they only need that much water because they have so much land to maintain, for which they should not be penalized. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?” pondered interior designer Gay Butler to a Washington Post reporter.
Governor Brown’s recent rule change leaves conservation up to local districts. Given the fact that some people have already ignored restrictions – like the “Wet Prince of Bel Air ,” who consumed nearly 12 billion gallons of water alone in one year, or celebrities like Amy Poehler, who was fined for water usage last year – what is to stop some areas from simply opting out of conservation?
California had only been under strict statewide water restrictions for a year when Governor Brown decided to change course. Utilities and municipalities were required to cut water use by 25%, which transformed a thirsty landscape. Green lawns deteriorated back to barren land, though some in denial spray-painted their grass so as to provide the illusion that all is well. In a sense, much of California’s colonized landscape has always been an illusion. Los Angeles is unquestionably arid, so water has to be pumped in to keep plants green. The unregulated use of limited water resources and a naturally dry climate was never sound science.