This 3 April 2015 aerial photo shows golf course communities bordering the desert in Cathedral City, California. In an aggressive push to reduce water usage statewide, California regulators are proposing that the biggest urban water users cut consumption by as much as 35 percent during 2015. Photo: Chris Carlson / AP Photo

By Matt Stevens, Taylor Goldenstein, and Chris Megerian
8 April 2015

SACRAMENTO, California (Los Angeles Times) – In an aggressive push to reduce water usage statewide, California regulators are proposing that the biggest urban water users cut consumption by as much as 35 percent over the next year.

The State Water Resources Control Board's plan, unveiled Tuesday, would place the heaviest conservation burden on cities and towns with the highest rates of per-capita water consumption, which would include small rural communities as well as affluent enclaves like Newport Beach and Beverly Hills.

Cities that have the lowest per-capita water use — including East Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Seal Beach — would be required to cut just 10 percent.

Agencies that don't comply with the rules could face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

"The gentle nudge is no longer sufficient," said Max Gomberg, the water board's senior scientist. "We're taking the enforcement piece very seriously."

The conservation targets were part of a new framework the state board unveiled to comply with California Gov. Jerry Brown's historic order requiring a 25 percent cut in water use in cities and towns statewide. The proposal assigns targets to more than 400 local water agencies.

The five-member board, whose members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, could adopt the plan in May. The board is seeking feedback on the plan, which could change before the vote.

Most communities would be required to cut water use by 20 percent to 25 percent, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Santa Ana, San Jose and Anaheim.

Officials said they measured residential per capita water use in September 2014 to set the benchmarks. But the state will measure whether each community hits its target by comparing overall water use over the next year with 2013 levels.

The targets were released the same day that the board announced dismal water conservation numbers for February. Californians reduced water use just 2.8 percent in February compared to the same month in 2013. It was the smallest decrease since officials began releasing monthly conservation numbers last summer.

Southern Californians actually used more water in February, while most other areas cut back.

"It's a really disturbing number," said State Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus, who attributed February's results to warmer weather and the improving economy.

Still, she expressed hope that Californians understood the severity of the situation.

"They want to do the right thing," she said. "But they lead very busy lives. And it's government's job to make it easier for them to do those right things."

Brown's mandatory statewide water restrictions, the first in California's history, come as the state endures a fourth year of drought. Slashed irrigation deliveries have forced growers to idle thousands of acres of cropland. Groundwater levels in some areas have plunged, causing the ground to sink. Some small communities have run out of water. And while reservoir levels are higher than last year, the mountain snowpack, which provides about a third of the state's water supply in normal years, is at a record low. [more]

California regulators urge 35 percent reduction in water use for some areas



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