A Terrific Conservation Job : Water agency eases up in wake of extraordinary compliance

Fifteen million Southern Californians are being released from water rationing, on their own recognizance. Consider it time off for good drought behavior.

The Metropolitan Water District says that it will deliver enough water during the next six months to get by if all of its customers use just 10% less water than they do in normal years.

Starting in October, however, it will be back to rain dances, prayer and whatever else might work in helping bring us another wet year like this one, only more so. For the drought isn't over. A wet winter has just kept the water crisis from getting worse. That, and the admirable way local folks responded to calls for water conservation.

By taking shorter showers, growing tawnier lawns or driving dustier cars, most Southern Californians cut their water use by more than rationing demanded. That's why it seems reasonable now to reward such initiative by lifting mandatory rationing.

In the meantime, the MWD and the local water agencies to which it sells water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project will not lose sight of the fact that 1992 is still dry no matter how wet it seems.

And Southern Californians are no more likely to forget that they have endured the longest stretch of rationing in the region's history. The best bet is that their water saving will be even greater than the 10% voluntary reduction that the MWD says would see its customers safely through the sixth year of drought.

If May and June are dry enough to upset the projections, there are plenty of ways to let some gentle hints fall, even if rain will not. Admonishments likely would be coming out of the already nervous MWD policy board, because there's no arguing with the rainfall gauges or the other statistics. On average the state's reservoirs are only 62% of capacity, and the snowpack in the Sierra that feeds northern rivers in the spring is just over half of normal.

Hints may not even be necessary. Southern Californians cut consumption by 30% and more under rationing that called for cuts of much less. Even through rain-streaked windshields, they know drought when they see it.

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