Gov. Brown makes some temporary state water limits permanent: Cites likelihood that drought will continue

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Citing California’s five-year drought, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order making some of the state’s temporary water restrictions permanent.

Permanently banned are wasteful practices such as hosing off driveways and washing cars with hoses that lack shut-off nozzles.

The governor credited Californians with having accomplished significant water conservation, saving 1.3-million-acre-feet of water from June 2015 to March 2016 with statewide cumulative savings in the same period of 23.9 percent compared to the same period in 2013. Nevertheless, the governor concluded water savings must continue statewide.

What the new regulations do not continue are across-the-board mandates to users of urban water to reduce consumption by 25 percent. Adopted on May 15 instead are localized “stress test” approaches. Urban water suppliers must act now to ensure at least a three-year supply of water to their customers under drought conditions.

Assuming they would face another three more dry years, agencies must act to maintain a three-year supply in reserve. If suppliers project for instance, a 10-percent shortfall, then their mandatory conservation standard would be 10 percent.

“Drought conditions are far from over, but have improved enough that we can step back from our unprecedented top-down target setting,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “We’ve moved to a ‘show us the water’ approach that allows local agencies to demonstrate that they are prepared for three more lousy water years.”

The governor’s order directs the State Water Resources Control Board to adjust emergency cutbacks through January 2017 that had been previously ordered. That flexibility means areas still facing water shortages could be directed to maintain 25-percent cutbacks while areas like the Northern California coast that saw major rainfall last winter might not be issued any further cutbacks at all.

“This is not a time to start using water like it’s 1999,” said Marcus. “While El Niño didn’t save us, it did help us. We got a reprieve. We need to use this moment wisely.”

“Permanent” prohibitions in addition to those mentioned above include: applying potable water to outdoor landscapes in a way that causes runoff; applying potable water to driveways and sidewalks; using potable water in a fountain or decorative water feature unless there is a recirculation feature; serving water other than on request in eating or drinking establishments; and using potable water for landscapes outside of newly constructed homes and buildings if inconsistent with California Building Standards Commission or Department of Housing and Community Development regulations.

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