The idiots are the ones who actually believe that the drought is the root cause of our water shortage. It isn't. It just made the real problem harder to ignore. The real problem is that California's population has grown by about 30% in the past 20 years, and the water system hasn't kept up. That's a staggering rate of growth. Keeping people out isn't realistic, which means the water system absolutely must be expanded in every respect—more water storage (whether dams or otherwise), more desalination plants, etc. to meet the growing needs of that growing population. We haven't been doing that adequately; we've been cutting corners to save money, allowing the safety margins to get smaller and smaller, and now we're paying the piper. We need to not make that mistake again going forward.
The problem with conservation is that people mistakenly try to treat it as the final solution to problems. It isn't; it can't be. When it comes to a limited resource, conservation can only be effective as a stop-gap workaround until either an alternate source for a scarce resource can be found or an alternative to that resource can be found. Otherwise, population growth alone will eventually exceed the limits of conservation, at which point you are totally and completely screwed. And when you're in your fourth consecutive year of drought and some people are still saying, "We don't need to build desalination plants because the drought has to end eventually, and the next one might be far away", you have to start wondering about their sanity, because yes, the next one might be in thirty years, or it might be in three.
The mind-boggling thing is that the people who support anthropogenic global warming tend to be the very same folks who are saying that we don't need desalination plants because we're going to get back to normal levels of wetness soon. We might, but there's at least as good a chance that this is the new normal. If we aren't prepared for that, we're signing our own death sentences.
So yes, conservation might get us through the drought. Then again, if the folks predicting the weather are right, the drought might end this winter anyway, making any further reductions in usage largely moot. And if the AGW folks are right, we might go right back into a drought in a couple of years. No matter which of those possible scenarios pans out, the true underlying problem—a water system whose capacity has not kept up with the population growth—will still be there.
My biggest concern when it comes to our water system is that a year from now, people will say, "The drought is over. There's no need to build this expensive infrastructure. That money can better be spent on [insert more short-term need here]." And then just as before, nothing will get done, and we'll end up in the same boat a decade or two down the line, only at that point, everybody will be conserving as much as they can without causing serious problems, so the conservation efforts will become more and more draconian.
Folks need to take a serious look at the projected population growth, assume that we're rapidly approaching peak conservancy already, and do the math. Then, the infrastructure needs to get out ahead of the curve instead of being behind it. Anything less than that is just asking for a disaster down the road. After all, you don't build a computer system to handle your capacity needs right now, because you'll be screwed in a year. You build a computer system to handle your projected capacity needs over the next several years. Our water system is fundamentally no different.
And just to be clear, I was being facetious about wasting as much water as you can. Doing it for a week might be an interesting way to protest and cause the water board folks to wet their pants, panic, and get more insistent about building the additional infrastructure we need, but doing it long-term would obviously be catastrophic, because we'd run out of water before the winter. The point of that bit of satire was to show contrast; although doing precisely the opposite of what we're currently doing would cause catastrophe in the short term, it would also inevitably encourage a long-term solution, whereas conservation might stave off the crisis in the short term, but eliminates the urgency and much of the financial motivation for building the infrastructure that our state needs to be viable in the long term. Neither extreme is the right solution, obviously.
There's only one correct solution, which is to not deliberately waste water, but at the same time, stop looking for more and more aggressive ways to conserve water. Demand that lawmakers spend the money to increase the capacity of our infrastructure so that its growth is proportional to the population growth, thus ensuring a permanently viable water supply for all of California. Accept that doing so is simply part of the cost of living, and that reductions in margins to save money in the short term are shortsighted and will eventually cause serious problems in the long term. After all, it isn't a question of whether we'll have another drought, but when.
To that end, I just can't fathom why desalination isn't being done a lot more than it is. We have 38 million people currently living entirely at the mercy of the weather, and the problem is solvable, with the only major barrier being the cost. (Yes, there are some environmental issues, but they're all solvable with current technology, and the only barrier to doing that is also cost.) Let's just cut all the red tape and get it done already. Build enough capacity to ensure that we don't have to draw down our lakes to the point where fish are dying, to ensure that when the next drought inevitably arrives, we can handle it without all the drama and political infighting.
Sorry if I was being too subtle in making the point.