California has adapted well to mandatory water conservation rules ordered into effect earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown–and water officials now say that some of those rules may be implemented permanently.
At Brown’s direction, the State Water Resources Control Board–which oversees all water-related resource management in California–issued sweeping new regulations this year intended to trim the state’s total water usage by 25 percent. The regulations included limits on the amount of times homeowners could water their lawns or wash their cars, as well as a rule prohibiting restaurants from serving water to customers unless asked.
The Board also implemented a water usage reporting requirement for each of California’s roughly 400 water agencies, under which each agency or water district must file a monthly report with the state indicating how much water it has saved–or, alternatively, how much water it failed to save.
The reporting requirement, in particular, has been tremendously successful; in the four months since the Board began tracking cities’ conservation rates, California as a whole reduced its water usage by 28.1 percent, more than the mandatory 25 percent and nearly 70 percent of the way toward its end-of-year target. Apart from a handful of uncooperative cities, including Beverly Hills, the state’s water conservation efforts are an unqualified success.
That success reportedly has state officials considering keeping the new regulations even when the four-year-long drought ends.
“It’s just common sense,” State Water Resources Control Board chairman Felicia Marcus told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s good use of a precious resource.”
In fact, keeping the rules is one area where both the state’s politically powerful environmental groups and water agencies, who traditionally spar with each other over water conservation issues, find some rare consensus.
“Drought or no drought, water-wasting practices are never acceptable, especially in a place like California,” California Coastkeeper Alliance executive director Sara Aminzadeh told the Mercury News. “We should build on what we have done so far.”
The Board will convene a public hearing in December to decide whether or not to make the rules permanent. The decision will undoubtedly be influenced by how much rain the state can collect when the strongest El Niño in two decades batters the West Coast with storms this winter. Experts have warned that even a so-called “super El Niño” would not cause enough precipitation to entirely lift California out of drought, though it will likely help replenish depleted reservoirs and the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the latter of which officially ran dry in June.
Elsewhere in Sacramento, GOP lawmakers are similarly preparing for the eventual end of the drought. Last week, state Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) and Board of Equalization Vice Chair George Runner introduced a ballot measure that would divert bond revenue from the state’s pricey high-speed rail project and the Proposition 1 water bond to fund the construction of new water storage systems. A similar bill proposed by Republicans was defeated by Democrats in the state Assembly in April.