In a vote held yesterday, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) voted to suspend the emergency water conservation standards that have been in place for Californian urban water suppliers, a move that will allow for standards to be set at the local level.
With the vote, suppliers will be able to formulate their own conservation strategies under the watch of the SWRCB to ensure that its customers will have enough water for the next three years if drought conditions persist. The board retains the right to take back control from local suppliers and re-institute its own conservation standards if it deems it necessary. The adopted guidelines will be in effect through January 2017.
In a statement, the SWRCB Chair Felicia Marcus said that the rainfall provided by the El Niño weather system has allowed for the move to ease up on the restrictions and the move to let the conservation standards be developed at the local level instead of by the state.
“Drought conditions are far from over, but have improved enough that we can step back from our unprecedented top-down target setting,” Marcus said. “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. This reporting will show us what agencies plan to do, and how they do, throughout the year. Trust, but verify. In the meantime, we’ll be watching and prepared to come back with the 25 percent state mandate early next year if necessary, which we hope it won't be.”
The vote does not eliminate some of the standards that Governor Jerry Brown made permanent last week, including the continued bans on the watering of hardscape, washing automobiles with hoses lacking cities irrigating medians and residents watering lawns within 48 hours of measurable rain. Protections for homeowners against their homeowners associations during a declared drought will also remain in effect.
Conservation goals submitted to the board by water suppliers will be made public and will still require those water suppliers to continue with mandated monthly reports to the board on conservation and enforcement figures. Before the vote, Long Beach had already had its water conservation mark reduced from an initial mark of 16 percent to just 9 percent.
Under those provisions, the state was able to reduce urban water usage by a cumulative 24 percent of what it used in 2013. The 1.3 million acre-feet was just shy of the governor’s goal, which was a 25 percent reduction which would’ve provided 6.5 million Californians with water for one year. The drought, which has plagued the state for five years has let up some, with only 18 percent of the state considered to be in the worst stages of drought compared to over 50 percent at this time last year.
Still, California remains as the only state in the union where severe drought persists, and Marcus noted this in her remarks yesterday. While El Niño did put a small dent in the damage incurred from the last half decade of dry weather, the board and water providers will have to remain vigilant in conservation efforts if the drought extends or worsens in the future.
“It’s a reprieve though, not a hall pass, for much if not all of California,” Marcus said. “We need to keep conserving, and work on more efficient practices, like keeping lawns on a water diet or transitioning away from them. We don't want to cry wolf, but we can't put our heads in the sand either.”