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State Passes Historic Water Conservation Rules

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State Passes Historic Water Conservation Rules

State Passes Historic Water Conservation Rules

A lush lawn may be part of the American Dream--and the new California nightmare. (Craig Miller/KQED)
A lush lawn may be part of the American Dream–and the new California nightmare. (Craig Miller/KQED)

UPDATE: After an extended session on Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board approved final rules to bring about the 25 percent reduction in water use ordered by Governor Jerry Brown in early April. The statewide water restrictions go into effect on June 1.

“We know we’re not asking people to do things that are easy,” said board chair Felicia Marcus right before the unanimous vote.
“But this is the moment to rise to the occasion.”

Local water agencies are racing to get programs in place to cut urban water use anywhere from eight to 36 percent, depending on how much water their residents have been using on a per-capita basis.

But the actual savings that cities will have to achieve vary much more widely than that range of state-assigned “tiers” would suggest. Just as important are the savings achieved over roughly the past year.

The Silicon Valley city of Mountain View, for example, has been assigned a savings “tier” of 16 percent; that’s the reduction that local water officials will have to attain on on month-by-month basis, starting in June. But since Mountain View has already managed to cut water use by 15 percent, residents there will, in effect, only have to squeeze out another one percent savings to comply with the governor’s mandate.


A few locales — like Santa Rosa, Livermore, and Santa Cruz, have already exceeded their assigned levels and could theoretically use more water this summer and still comply with the drought mandate — not that anybody’s openly encouraging that.

Other cities have their work cut out for them. Water consumption in Lodi, for example, actually rose by one percent, so the city will have to cut back by slightly more than its assigned 36 percent target, which is the highest tier.

Water CutsLast week, Governor Brown rolled out legislation that could help cities attain their assigned goals, ratcheting up maximum fines that local officials are allowed to assess for unrepentant water wasters.

It will be at least mid-July before there are indications of whether the new conservation measures are taking hold — just as the peak outdoor watering season is hitting its stride.

“And that’s when we really need to see significant reductions in outdoor water use,” warns Max Gomberg, a senior scientist at the State Water Resources Control Board. “If we don’t get those reductions during the summer, we’re simply not gonna make the overall reduction target.”

The governor’s April 1 list of mandates is designed to cut statewide water use by 25 percent, on average.

“You might think of this as just another installment on a long enterprise to live with the changing climate and with a drought of uncertain duration,” Brown told reporters after a meeting with California mayors last week. That last point is crucial; no one can say at this point whether we’re in the last year of a four-year drought, or year four of a ten-year “Big Dry,” such as Australians endured at the start of the century.

“People face different environmental challenges,” Brown said, “and out of this very complex state we’re gonna do everything we can to save water and to get it done.”

Getting it done will now be largely in the hands of local water officials and consumers. The state has weighed in; now it’s on us.

See the complete list of cities and their assigned water conservation targets.

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