CALIFORNIA: Drought demands long-term conservation standards

Gov. Jerry Brown today declared the need for a long- term conservation strategy as drought conditions persist in many areas of the state, including Riverside County.

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” Brown said. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

The governor issued a new executive order reinforcing the one he announced on April 1, 2015, which prompted the State Water Resources Control Board to establish a slew of mandates requiring local water agencies to crack down on water wasters and provide incentives to lower consumption.

Between June 2015 and last March, the state reduced water use by 23.9 percent — saving 1.3 million acre-feet of water — compared to 2013 in response to the new regulations, according to the governor’s office.

In Riverside County, most agencies have slashed usage but have missed conservation targets set by the state. Several agencies, including the Perris- based Eastern Municipal Water District and Riverside Public Utilities, have characterized the targets as unrealistic and have highlighted the success of local conservation programs in place well before the state mandates were imposed.

The governor’s original executive order was slated to expire at the end of February, but he extended it to Oct. 31, based on concerns seasonal rainfall would not meet expectations, even with the El Nino phenomenon.

State officials acknowledged today that the Sierra snowpack has improved but there wasn’t sufficient precipitation over the last five months to end what’s now a five-year drought.

Brown’s new executive order retains previous conservation requirements, such as limitations on outdoor watering, and puts the following in effect:

— local water suppliers must report monthly usage rates indefinitely;

— the State Water Resources Control Board will adjust emergency water restrictions as warranted to the end of January 2017;

— if the drought persists beyond January, new proposed emergency restrictions will be developed;

— the board and Department of Water Resources will take steps to minimize leaks in water delivery systems statewide, saving a potential 700,000 acre-feet of water annually;

— the DWR will work with stakeholders to create “water shortage contingency plans” to help localities cope with droughts lasting at least five years; and

— the DWR will update agricultural water management plans to better measure irrigation activities.

All of the provisions dovetail with the governor’s “Water Action Plan,” which he submitted in January 2015 as a “roadmap to put California on a path to sustainable water management.”

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