Water & Drought

Most Sacramento communities get even bigger water cuts under revised mandates

A sign encouraging people to save water is displayed at a news conference in Los Angeles last week. A new report says that the drought is unlikely to have a significant economic impact. That could change if the drought drags on, it said.
A sign encouraging people to save water is displayed at a news conference in Los Angeles last week. A new report says that the drought is unlikely to have a significant economic impact. That could change if the drought drags on, it said. The Associated Press

The revised conservation mandates unveiled by state water regulators Saturday would require most Sacramento-area communities to make even bigger cuts in water use than originally proposed, disappointing area leaders who argue the state should take into account the region’s hot weather and large lot sizes.

Thirteen of the 23 water agencies in the Sacramento region would be required to cut residential water use by 36 percent compared with 2013 under a revised proposal issued by the State Water Resources Control Board on Saturday. That is the most severe cut proposed in the framework, reserved for agencies with the highest per capita usage in the state.

The water board’s revised regulations divvy the state’s water agencies among nine tiers, based on their per capita water use in the summer of 2014. Under this new distribution, all but two Sacramento-area communities will have to cut usage by at least 28 percent over 2013.

Earlier this month, citing unprecedented drought conditions, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered urban water agencies across California to cut water use 25 percent on average by next February. The water board, which regulates water rights in California, issued its framework in response to that order, requiring deeper cuts in communities that have the highest per capita water use.

California’s drought, now in its fourth year, has depleted reservoirs and groundwater supplies in many parts of the state. Following an unusually dry winter, mountain snowpack in the state measured just 5 percent of normal April 1, meaning the snowmelt California relies on to replenish its reservoirs will be in short supply this summer.

Water board officials said proposed cuts would save 1.3 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or about as much as currently sits in Lake Oroville.

“We are in a drought like we have not seen before,” water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said during a conference call with reporters Saturday. “All Californians have to step up and prepare as if it won’t rain or snow again next year.”

The state action represents the first time in history that California cities have been ordered to meet targets for reduced water use. Last year, the governor called on urban water agencies to voluntarily cut use by 20 percent, but the state as a whole met that goal only once in the last eight months, and most months fell far short.

The draft framework issued Saturday marks the water board’s second proposal in its effort to carry out the governor’s order. Its first version, released April 7, prompted a war of words among urban water agencies that in many ways broke down between north and south, coastal and inland, over who should be required to make the biggest cuts.

Many Sacramento-area districts argued they should not be held to the same standards as coastal communities that benefit from higher densities and moderate climates. Many south-state agencies argued they should get credit for costly conservation efforts that in some cases stretch back more than a decade.

In issuing the revised regulations, water board officials said the new nine-tiered system – mandating cutbacks ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent – does a better job of taking into account previous conservation efforts than the original draft, which used only four tiers. But they held fast in not granting concessions based on lot size and temperature.

During the conference call, Marcus said hotter areas with larger lots are exactly where the state can achieve the biggest conservation bang for the buck this summer, simply by getting residents and businesses to reduce exterior watering. Officials made a point, however, of saying residents should continue to water trees, which provide cooling and air-quality benefits.

“Sacramento has done an extraordinary job in the last year ... focused on outside irrigation,” Marcus said. “I would expect more of the same.”

Some local water agency officials expressed dismay at the new targets, saying they felt the region should have gotten more credit for what residents already have done. The Sacramento region as a whole last year cut summertime water use by 18 percent compared with summer 2013, and in some recent months has led the state in cutting consumption.

“Our region’s water use reflects the community’s unique characteristics, such as landscapes that are larger than in many other areas of the state and our many hot summer days,” said John Woodling, executive director of the Regional Water Authority, an umbrella group for area water agencies. “As such, we are being called upon to take on a disproportionately larger share of the targeted 25 percent reduction.”

Woodling said Sacramento officials will continue to press the water board “for a more equitable apportionment of responsibility statewide,” but also will begin preparations for a stepped-up conservation push.

He warned that “hitting such high marks will be challenging and is likely to have significant impacts – both on customers and the revenues and fiscal stability of water suppliers.”

Folsom is among the handful of cities in the region that saw its conservation target drop in the new proposal, from a 35 percent cut in usage to 32 percent. Folsom Mayor Andy Morin said the new numbers are good news but that city officials will continue to look at whether they are fair.

“We’ve already cut back quite a bit,” Morin said. “It’s a bit of good news, not so draconian. We know we need to do our part.”

Sacramento-area residents on the whole are still among the biggest users of water in urban areas in the state, data show. Most area districts used more than 165 gallons per person per day in September 2014, above the statewide average of 124 gallons. San Francisco used 46 gallons per person per day, Los Angeles used 93 gallons and San Diego used 82 gallons.

Water agencies will have an opportunity during the next week to comment on the new plan. “We may make more changes, probably will,” Marcus said. The board is expected to make its final decision in early May.

The governor’s emergency order mandating the cutbacks ends Feb. 28. At that point, Marcus said, the state will assess what needs to happen with conservation in the long term.

“The state will know far better than today whether we are going to have another dry or wet year,” she said. “We are going to be considering permanent regulations.”

The new conservation tiers range from a 4 percent cutback to 36 percent. No water agency in the state is in the 4 percent tier, but state officials say some communities, notably along the North Coast, could apply to be placed into that category if they can show they meet certain standards, including having an adequate long-term supply of surface water.

Under the revised framework, San Francisco would face an 8 percent cut. Both Los Angeles and San Diego would be asked to cut usage 16 percent.

The board will start monitoring agencies on a monthly basis in June to see if they are making progress in meeting their targets. Marcus said the board intends to work closely with agencies that are struggling, emphasizing community outreach, as well as possible rate changes and local policing of outdoor watering. Water agencies that fail to comply with a conservation order could face fines of up to $500 a day.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

Proposed water mandates

The State Water Resources Control Board proposed a series of regulations Saturday that mandate water conservation. The plan:

▪ Requires urban water agencies statewide to reduce water usage by an average of 25 percent over 2013, with communities that use more water per person targeted for the heftiest cuts.

▪ Prohibits landscape irrigation that causes runoff onto sidewalks and streets.

▪ Prohibits landscape irrigation for 48 hours after rainfall.

▪ Prohibits the use of potable water to wash down sidewalks and driveways.

▪ Prohibits using a hose to wash cars and trucks unless the hose has a shut-off nozzle.

▪ Prohibits irrigation outside newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or micro-spray systems.

▪ Prohibits irrigation of ornamental landscape on public medians.

▪ Prohibits restaurants from serving water unless customers ask.

Looking for tips on saving water?

Go to saveourwater.com

Proposed Usage Cuts

The state’s revised proposal for mandatory water cutbacks divides urban water agencies into nine tiers, with the biggest per capita users targeted for the largest cuts. Under both the old and new proposals, Sacramento-area agencies face some of the largest cuts in the state. The figures show how much average usage between June 2014 and February 2015 must come down compared with 2013.

Supplier Name

Original

New

California-American - Sacramento

20%

20%

Woodland

25%

24%

Davis

25%

28%

City of Sacramento

25%

28%

Roseville

25%

28%

El Dorado Irrigation

35%

28%

Sacramento County

25%

32%

Folsom

35%

32%

Galt

35%

32%

Citrus Heights

35%

32%

Georgetown Divide

35%

36%

Elk Grove Water Service*

35%

36%

Lincoln

35%

36%

Sacramento Suburban

35%

36%

Carmichael

35%

36%

Rio Linda - Elverta

35%

36%

Placer County

35%

36%

West Sacramento

35%

36%

Fruitridge Vista

35%

36%

Fair Oaks

35%

36%

Golden State

35%

36%

Orange Vale

35%

36%

San Juan

35%

36%

Note: Elk Grove Water Service has submitted new figures to the state that may not be reflected in these numbers.

Source: State Water Resources Control Board

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments