Water & Drought

As Californians become less vigilant about saving water, state eyes stricter standards

To fully recover from Califoria’s five-year drought, the state would need three Folsom Reservoirs filled to the brim.
To fully recover from Califoria’s five-year drought, the state would need three Folsom Reservoirs filled to the brim. jvillegas@sacbee.com

As the drought enters its fifth year, California is considering tightening its urban water conservation standards.

In a series of proposals released Wednesday, state officials said they might require urban water districts seeking to avoid state conservation mandates to prove they have a five-year water supply on hand.

Under rules that went into effect earlier this year, urban districts have to show only a three-year supply to get out from under the state’s previous mandates, which required savings of 25 percent. With the more relaxed standards now in effect in most of the state, Californians haven’t been conserving as much as they did last year. Officials with the State Water Resources Control Board have raised the idea of imposing a tougher mechanism for reducing consumption.

The current rules are “clearly inadequate,” said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager at the State Water Resources Control Board.

Wednesday’s proposal is part of a broad outline released by a collection of state agencies under the title “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life.” It calls for a series of long-term conservation measures, including a permanent ban on such wasteful practices as washing a car without a shutoff nozzle and watering lawns right after a rainstorm, Gomberg said.

Gomberg said the document is “a response to the fact that this drought has gone on for five-plus years now. … There are going to be more droughts and more severe droughts.”

He said the outline isn’t limited to urban water districts. For example, he said most agricultural irrigation districts will be required to submit detailed plans on how they intend to become more efficient. Those that don’t take the requirement seriously could get fined.

The proposals were released by the state water board, Department of Water Resources, California Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission and Department of Food & Agriculture. Some of the proposals outlined Wednesday will require action by the Legislature; others can be implemented by administrative action.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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