Maybe, just maybe, there’s a silver lining in California’s prolonged drought.

The state’s condition in recent years has led legislators, companies and community members to view water not as an infinite resource but as a precious treasure.

Government agencies have looked into expanding options for recycling water. People have altered habits at their homes and businesses. The City of Santa Monica recently implemented fines for citizens who exceed their water allowances.

“It has really moved the conversation,” said Tom Ford, executive director of the Bay Foundation. “The drought has taken this from, ‘Wouldn’t this be a good idea?’ to ‘Wow, we need this as part of our water portfolio.’”

The ongoing drought and its impact on both Santa Monica and the region loomed large in the State of the Bay report, a scientific assessment of local environmental conditions.

Produced by the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program, the five-year report aims to “measure progress in restoring the Bay’s natural habitats and resources” while identifying future problems and educating the public about environmental issues.

California’s drought has sparked action and dialogue on water treatment and recycling.

“The drought has brought due attention to water resource management,” Guang-yu Wang, a senior scientist with the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, wrote in the report. “We see a new paradigm unfolding where water is considered a resource rather than a liability or a byproduct of our former single-use approach.

“To secure a sustainable water supply for Los Angeles and Southern California, water supply is diversifying to include stormwater, recycled wastewater, and graywater. This dynamic has encouraged new legislation, regulation, and funding, creating unprecedented coordination amongst the agencies that provide or treat our water.”

Experts said California’s drought has led more agencies to work together on solutions for water conservation. Still, though, they see a need for more collaboration and comprehensive planning. They pointed to Australia as a potential model for handling drought conditions.

“During the Millennium Drought in southeastern Australia,” the report reads, “the city of Melbourne succeeded in reducing water consumption and rebuilding its water reserves, due in part to having one water management agency that oversees all aspects of water supply, use, and disposal.”

Meanwhile, Ford said, water conservation can be a highly local enterprise. He noted the City of Santa Monica’s efforts to be self-sufficient in water supply by 2020.

Individual decisions, while small, can also be impactful. The production of beef requires large amounts of water, Ford said, so he recommended reducing consumption of burgers and other red-meat products. People who properly dispose of cigarette butts or quit smoking altogether are also helping to improve water quality and the environment.

And the long-term goal is to conserve water even when California’s drought subsides.

“Santa Monica, as a community, has stepped up and done a great job,” he said. “We have to think of it as a precious resource and remember that we don’t have an abundance of it.”

jeff@smdp.com

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