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The drought may be over, but California residents should prepare themselves for new and more permanent restrictions on water use.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills Thursday to set permanent overall targets for indoor and outdoor water consumption.
Assembly Bill 1668 by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, and Senate Bill 606 from state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, give water districts more flexibility than the strict cuts mandated under Brown’s emergency drought order and will eventually allow state regulators to assess thousands of dollars in fines against jurisdictions that do not meet the goals.
"In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely," Brown said in a statement. "We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water.”
The laws set an initial limit for indoor water use of 55 gallons per-person per-day in 2022, which gradually drops to 50 gallons per person by 2030.
Just how consumers will be required to meet the goals remains unknown.
The Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board will conduct studies and recommend standards for outdoor use by October 2021. State regulators will consult with local districts, recognizing differences in climate, water availability and demand across the state, to establish outdoor targets. Water districts that have already taken steps, such as recycling, to broaden their water supply could get more leeway even in dry conditions.
California residents used an average of 90 gallons of indoor and outdoor water per day in 2017, down from 109 gallons in 2013, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.
Water consumption typically climbs in the summer months and falls in the winter. Residents used an average of 65 gallons of water per day in March of this year compared to 120 gallons per day in July 2017, for example.
"This is something that has never been done before," said Hertzberg before the Senate passed his bill on a 24-12 vote on May 17. "We know we are facing challenges. We need to be a government that is prepared and provide the structures so this doesn't happen again."
Brown declared a state of emergency in January 2014 and California imposed mandatory 25 percent cutbacks on water use the following year. The state relaxed the temporary restrictions in 2016 and eventually called off the drought a year ago.
Friedman said the changes would make California water use more sustainable and “set us on the right path forward” to handle future water shortages.
“This creates a framework for further work to come,” Friedman said on the Assembly floor. The Assembly passed her bill 43-23, along party lines.
Several Democrats acknowledged how the bills had been amended to address concerns about avoiding a “one size fits all” approach and to remove the opposition of water districts, who initially objected to handing over more control to the state.
“Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting,” Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, said, quoting the old maxim often attributed to Mark Twain.