Water & Drought

Sacramento region to get a break on water conservation targets

When California drought regulators released the state’s water conservation mandates last spring, agencies in the Sacramento area lodged adamant protests: Quite a few of them were handed the strictest targets of all.

They’re about to get a break.

Most agencies in greater Sacramento would see their water-conservation mandates reduced by 3 percentage points under a draft proposal released this week by the State Water Resources Control Board. Two agencies would have their savings rates cut by 7 percentage points. The board will vote on the plan Tuesday.

The easing of the mandates reflects the board’s decision to adjust statewide conservation rules in 2016 to reflect climate differences. It takes more water to keep lawns and trees alive in hot, dry climates such as Sacramento’s than in coastal communities.

The old rules, which took effect in June, are designed to cut urban water use in California by a combined 25 percent through the end of February, as compared with 2013. Of the 22 agencies in greater Sacramento, all but two are under orders to reduce consumption by at least 28 percent, and six are in the top tier of 36 percent.

The rates are based on historical water use per capita, with heavier users targeted for bigger cuts. California’s inland regions generally have been among the state’s heaviest users per capita.

The numbers would change under the new rules, which would run through October. Agencies, including the Fair Oaks and San Juan water districts, would see their mandates drop to 33 percent from the current 36 percent. The city of Sacramento, currently in the 28 percent tier, would fall into the 25 percent tier.

Sacramento officials had hoped for a 4 percentage point reduction for climate difference, not 3 percent, but called the board’s plan a step in the right direction.

“We definitely needed an adjustment for climate, and even though this is not ideal ... it is an adjustment,” said Amy Talbot of the Sacramento Regional Water Authority, which represents most agencies in the area.

All told, almost two-thirds of the state’s 412 largest urban water agencies would see no changes under the proposal. The largest proposed reduction statewide is for Hemet, which would see its conservation target lowered from 32 percent savings to 16 percent savings. Seal Beach is the only city that would see its target raised; it would go from 8 percent to 12 percent.

The average savings target for districts statewide would fall to 23 percent this year under the new plan, a decline of 2 percentage points. Water board officials have said they’re comfortable with the decline in light of the promising start to the rainy season. They’ve pledged to re-examine the conservation mandates this spring, after the rains end.

Sacramento County Water Agency’s conservation mandate would fall 7 percentage points to 25 percent under the proposal. Talbot said Sacramento County is getting an additional 4 percentage points after recalculating its historical usage patterns. Another area agency, Fruitridge Vista, also is getting a 7-point drop to 29 percent.

So far, Sacramento area agencies have cut water usage by a combined 33 percent since the mandatory cutbacks took effect in June.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler