State lifts drought emergency restrictions

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On Friday, April 7, Gov. Jerry Brown rescinded the state of emergency caused by the statewide drought, which he declared in January 2014. The emergency conditions were lifted for all but four counties — Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne.

In his press release, Brown said, “This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner. Conservation must remain a way of life.”

The Executive Order B-40-17 maintains water reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices, such as watering during or right after rainfall.

The State Water Resources Control Board will maintain urban water use reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices such as watering during or after rainfall, hosing off sidewalks and irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians, according to the release.

Also, the order maintains that the state will continue its work to develop a statewide response to the bark-beetle outbreak in drought-stressed forests that has killed millions of trees across California.

Brown’s action had been anticipated after one of the wettest winters on record. Already, Pine Cove has received 37 inches of rain, nearly 50 percent more than the long-term annual average.

Besides the winter precipitation, Californians statewide have made significant water reduction. Last week, the SWRCB also reported that statewide water conservation was 25 percent in February, more than double the February 2016 savings.

The governor’s decision will have some, but not a major, effect on local water districts since most of the state conservation regulations applied to the 400 large urban districts. Generally, they plan to continue the movement toward a less restrictive emergency stage.

“[There will be] no immediate effect; but I anticipate more pressure to get all the other items in line and back to stage 0 [zero],” wrote Jack Hoagland, general manager for the Idyllwild Water District.

Victor Jimenez, general manager of Fern Valley Water District, wrote, “I wish it would have come a couple of weeks ago, we could have gone to Stage 1, but I will present it to the Board this month to go to Stage 1.”

“Effective [April 12], I will inform the Board of Directors that the [Pine Cove Water] District will return to water conservation level Stage 1, voluntary compliance,” replied PCWD General Manager Jerry Holldber. “Also, there is no reduction in water rates, as we did not increase the rates when we entered into Stage II, mandatory restrictions.”

Holldber intends to continue with the district’s conservation plan, including rebates for low-flow fixtures, free water-saver kits, free compost and wood chips.”

Water Plan

In another water-related action, the state released a long-term plan to better prepare for future droughts and make conservation a California way of life.

The governor’s May 2016 mandate directed state agencies — the Department of Water Resources and the SWRCB — to develop the plan, which was to address issues such as using water wisely, eliminating water waste, strengthening drought resilience, and improving agricultural water efficiency and drought planning.

“This framework is about converting Californians’ response to the drought into an abiding ethic,” said California Department of Water Resources Acting Director Bill Croyle. “Technically, the drought is over, but this framework extends and expands our dry-year habits. Careful, sparing use of water from backyards to businesses and farm fields will help us endure the next inevitable drought.”

The Water Conservation Trailer Bill Fact Sheet announcing the plan’s availability emphasized that the plan will require “… the state’s 410 urban water suppliers to meet new water use targets. Suppliers would calculate their unique water efficiency targets based on a common methodology that takes into account the diverse climatic, demographic and land-use characteristics of each agency’s service area. Urban water suppliers would set new targets by 2021 with a full compliance deadline of 2025.”

Implementing the plan will require executive orders from the governor and several pieces of new legislation. The proposed legislation will strengthen local drought resilience through improved planning and annual assessments, according to the report’s authors.

New rulemaking actions will be initiated. The proposed legislation will address issues such as deadlines for setting new long-term standards for urban water use and requirements for water-shortage contingency plans and drought-risk assessments.

Bans on wasteful use of water, such as hosing sidewalks or driveways or watering during rain storms, will be continued.

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