California State Water Board Orders 25 Percent Mandatory Cutback for Urban Areas

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A sprinkler waters a lawn on April 7, 2015, in Walnut Creek. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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The California state water board on Tuesday night approved emergency regulations designed to cut back urban water use statewide by an average of 25 percent — with more conservation required from areas that use more water.

Under the proposal before the board, more than 400 cities and urban water suppliers were divided into tiers with an expected “conservation standard” ranging from 8 percent to 36 percent.

The regulations, approved by the State Water Resources Control Board at a Sacramento meeting, were meant to create a pathway to achieving Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 1 executive order requiring the first mandatory water-use cuts in California history. After hours of public comment, the board approved the regulations unanimously.

The meeting followed an extremely dry winter that ended with Sierra Nevada snowpack — the source of more than a third of California’s water — at 5 percent of normal.

The cutbacks were needed because calls to conserve in the face of a fourth year of historic drought have not been fully heeded, officials said.

The latest figures, released Tuesday, show water consumption decreased by 3.6 percent in March, compared to 2013 figures. That’s slightly better than in February, when the statewide conservation rate was at 2.8 percent but actually included an increased in water use in Southern California.

The figures were far from the amount demanded by Brown more than a month earlier.

“We’ve done well, but we have a long way to go,” said water board staff scientist Max Gomberg told board members Tuesday.

The proposed regulations were revised several times in response to criticism from water agencies, cities and citizens.

Water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus repeatedly said that regulators were trying to find a sweet spot between effectiveness and fairness while getting ready for a possible future dry years.

“Our eye is on the ball that it might not rain or snow much next year … and we’re preparing accordingly,” Marcus said Tuesday.

Nonetheless, complaints came from areas — often wealthy regions with large lawns — that are facing mandatory cuts of up to 36 percent.

The cutback figures that board staff arrived at were based on the amount of water used daily per capita in summer 2014, along with past efforts to conserve water.

Those areas that have already conserved will face less severe water reductions, while cities that have continued to use proportionally large amount of water will see higher reductions.

Here’s a list of select Southern California areas and the proposed cutbacks they are facing:

  • La Canada Flintridge (Valley Water Co.) – 36%
  • Arcadia – 36%
  • Malibu (L.A. County Waterworks District 29) – 36%
  • Corona – 32%
  • Palmdale (Palmdale Water District) – 32%
  • Rancho Cucamonga (Cucamonga Valley Water District) – 32%
  • Santa Clarita (Castaic Lake Water Agency/Santa Clarita Water Division) – 32%
  • Victorville (Victorville Water District) – 28%
  • Thousand Oaks – 28%
  • Tustin – 28%
  • San Bernardino – 28%
  • Orange – 28%
  • Fontana (Fontana Water Co.) – 28%
  • Pasadena – 28%
  • Newport Beach – 28%
  • Fullerton – 28%
  • Riverside – 28%
  • Garden Grove - 28%
  • Burbank – 28%
  • Moreno Valley (Eastern Municipal Water District) - 24%
  • Simi Valley (Golden State Water Co.) – 24%
  • Ontario – 24%
  • Torrance – 24%
  • Huntington Beach – 20%
  • Anaheim – 20%
  • Glendale – 20%
  • El Monte – 20%
  • Santa Monica – 20%
  • Pomona – 20%
  • Irvine (Irvine Ranch Water District) – 16%
  • Los Angeles (Department of Water and Power) – 16%
  • Long Beach – 16%
  • Santa Ana – 12%
  • Oxnard – 12%
  • Inglewood – 12%
  • East Los Angeles (California State Water Co.) – 8%

A full list of water agencies and their proposed cutbacks is on the state’s website.

If they meet certain criteria — such as devoting 20 percent of supply to commercial agriculture — some water agencies or cities may apply to the board to see their mandated cuts reduced.

In addition to mandatory cutbacks, the regulations include a ban on watering of turf on public street medians, and a ban on the use of potable water for irrigation at new homes unless a drip or microspray system is installed, among other actions.

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