The California drought restrictions may be lifted as Gov. Jerry Brown and top water regulators are making some conservation rules permanent while also moving to give communities more of a say in deciding how much water they must save.
Brown issued an executive order enshrining a conservation ethic in state regulations — banning permanently some wasteful water practices and ordering regulators to develop new water-efficiency standards designed to drive down long-term urban use, The Guardian reports.
In doing so, Brown made it clear that the California drought ended the days when residents could use as much water as they pleased. At the same time, the staff of the State Water Resources Control Board recommended changes to emergency drought rules that would allow communities around the state to relax or even drop mandatory conservation targets that have been in effect for much of the last year.
Though officials emphasized that the harsh California drought has not ended, they said the wet winter and spring in many parts of the state brightened the supply picture sufficiently to give local agencies more flexibility.
California’s two largest reservoirs, Shasta and Oroville in Northern California, are more than 90 percent full. The State Water Project, which delivers supplies to the Southland, has upped its allocation to 60 percent of requests, the highest it has been since 2012.
“We’re making a shift that recognizes supply conditions have improved,” water board conservation manager Max Gomberg said.
Under proposed revisions that the water board will consider May 18, local agencies — many of which had complained that the drought rules were too heavy-handed — would set their conservation targets based on their ability to meet demand if there are three more severely dry years, the New York Times reported.
In the case of some Northern California communities with brimming local reservoirs, that could mean the end of water rationing. It could even ease restrictions in the dry Southland.
As the California drought intensified, Brown last year ordered a statewide 25 percent cut in urban water use, the first mandate of its kind in California history. To achieve that, the water board set individual targets for communities. Those with the highest per-capita use were ordered to reduce water consumption by as much as 36 percent.
Since then, the state’s overall urban use has dropped nearly 24 percent compared with 2013.
But water agencies up and down the state complained that the conservation targets didn’t take into account regional climate differences, previous conservation efforts or alternative supplies such as desalinated seawater.
Those complaints grew louder this winter as El Niño drenched the northern half of the state and the mountain snowpack recovered from the record lows of last year.
The percentage cuts imposed by the state last year were a fairly blunt instrument adopted in an emergency situation, said water board chair Felicia Marcus.
The proposed revisions are more tailored to individual circumstances, she added.
“Show us your situation,” she said. “Come up with the conservation standard appropriate to you and we reserve the right to set one if [you] don’t — and reserve the right to second-guess.”
Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Assn. of California Water Agencies, said members were “pleased the staff is proposing a fundamentally different approach that builds on extensive feedback from the water community. While the statewide drought is not over, it is time to better match conservation levels with local water supply conditions.”
The International Business Times said that even as state officials signaled an easing of some aspects of the California drought rules, Monday’s executive order makes other provisions permanent: Bans on hosing off sidewalks, washing cars with hoses that lack shut-off nozzles and irrigating lawns so that water spills onto pavement, as well as watering grass in public street medians.