Water & Drought

Should California drought rules be lifted? State ponders question as storms roll in

With rivers roaring and more rain coming, California’s drought cops are wrestling with a complicated question: Should they keep patrolling the beat?

A chorus of urban water districts Wednesday urged the State Water Resources Control Board, California’s chief drought regulator, to allow the state’s emergency conservation rules to expire.

At a lengthy hearing in Sacramento, representatives of the water districts said the state board is losing credibility by insisting the drought still exists when residents can see how much conditions have eased.

“We have customers out there and they’re seeing what’s going on,” said Jack Hawks of the California Water Association, an alliance of local water districts. He said the Yolo Bypass west of Sacramento is so full, it “looks like Lake Michigan.”

Local officials said they’ve invested in storage and conservation programs and that they have strong water supplies. “The drought emergency is over,” said Deven Upadhyay of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Water board members, however, indicated that they plan to keep regulations in place, at least for a few more months. Despite the promising start to the winter, they said conditions could turn dry again.

“We’ve seen the skies dry up, and we’ve seen heat waves melt the snow,” said board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus.

A vote is likely Feb. 7.

In 2015 the board, acting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s drought emergency declaration, imposed an average 25 percent cutback in urban water consumption. Last year, following a decent winter season in Northern California, the board significantly relaxed the rules. Agencies that could show they had three years’ worth of water on hand were allowed to avoid any conservation mandates.

About 80 percent of the state’s urban districts now are operating without any restrictions. The rules adopted last year are scheduled to expire at the end of February.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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