There is no sign this drought will end anytime soon.

Last weekend's rains were only a small down payment on the precipitation deficit. We must start conserving now because we don't want to look back when the shortage hits a crisis point and say, "We should have ..."

We should have used less water. We should have imposed rationing. We should have more quickly required metering of all California households. We should have set water prices to better discourage consumption.

To be sure, agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of the state's water consumption. While farmers are important to the state's economy and world food supply, that's not justification for abusive, wasteful consumption by some, most notably the Kern County Water Agency and Westlands Water District, which for years have pushed efforts to waive environmental laws and pump water from the north without regard to impacts on others.

Water begins to collect in Lake Oroville at Lime Saddle Marina as rain returned to help with drought conditions Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 in Paradise, Calif.
Water begins to collect in Lake Oroville at Lime Saddle Marina as rain returned to help with drought conditions Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 in Paradise, Calif. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

But solving that problem requires overcoming ugly, partisan politics and long-standing legal fights over water rights. Meanwhile, the rest of the state's water districts can do more to efficiently serve residential, industrial and business consumers.

That was made clear by reporters Paul Rogers' and Nicholas St. Fleur's examination in Sunday's paper of water usage across California. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then the front page graphic was that picture.

It showed a stark divide in per-capita water consumption -- but not between north and south as we northerners so often imagine. It was between coastal and inland regions. Blame not Los Angeles residents' swimming pools but rather excess in Palm Springs and the Central Valley.

That said, we all can -- and must -- do better.

Although we would like to believe that voluntary measures will do the trick, we know better. Tiered pricing should be immediately implemented for agencies such as the Contra Costa Water District that still don't have it. All districts should ratchet up rates for large consumers while rewarding those who are frugal users. Those who complain of increasing bills should remember they have an alternative: Use less water.

Unfortunately, such rate changes aren't possible in parts of the state. That's because some Central Valley districts still don't have water meters and so still must charge a flat rate no matter the amount consumed.

Meters will not be mandatory for another 11 years. That's too long.

Conservation programs, with incentives for installing low-flow shower heads and toilets and replacement of lawns with drought-resistant landscaping, should be stepped up to ensure all households are retrofitted as quickly as possible.

We must not wait. The time for action is now.