State regulators on Saturday announced a revised plan to reduce water use in drought-stricken California that offers easier conservation targets for major cities, including Los Angeles, while demanding greater cutbacks from others.
The new water reduction targets released by the State Water Resources Control Board responds to dozens of critical comments from cities that said earlier targets were unrealistic and unfair. The regulations are responding to Gov. Jerry Brown's executive order mandating a 25-percent cutback in urban water use as part of sweeping water saving measures in the fourth year of drought.
Recognizing that some communities are farther along than others in conservation, the water board required varying levels of cutbacks for cities in a draft plan to enforce Brown's order released last week.
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Dozens of cities said the state was taking a meat-cleaver approach to saving water that didn't credit their efforts to save and store water.
A San Diego water official said residents are frustrated that they must endure large cuts even after paying higher rates to drought-proof their water supplies, such as an upcoming project to make wastewater drinkable.
"The fact that we are being dinged additional costs doesn't seem fair," said John Helminski, assistant director of public utilities.
The board on Saturday changed how it assigned targets to reward communities that conserved more last summer. The latest proposal requires cities to conserve between 8 percent and 36 percent compared to 2013 levels, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency.
Regulators compared water use to 2013, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency. Los Angeles and San Diego are expected to cut 16 percent, compared to an earlier demand for 20 percent. In contrast, San Bernardino must cut its use by 32 percent, instead of 25 percent.
Many cities had complained that the state was not taking into account the demand for more water for lawns and showers in places with hotter climates or crediting communities for investing in drought-proof water supplies, including recycling sewage water and desalination. Those facing the deepest proposed cuts argue their revenues would plummet and local economies would suffer.
The criticism from cities highlighted regional tensions over water in California. Cities from Folsom, a Sacramento suburb, to San Diego questioned why they should endure major water cuts because other agencies didn't prepare for the drought.
The board on Saturday said all water supplies needed to protected, even if it was recycled or filtered from the ocean.
"They are still sources of supply that need to be managed judiciously, especially in times of drought," the board said in a fact sheet explaining the proposed regulations.
Homes and businesses use less than a fifth of the water Californians withdraw from surface and groundwater supplies, but state officials say conservation is the best way to maximize water supplies to get through the relentless drought.
Local water departments that fail to conserve or reduce water face possible fines and state intervention.
The board is expected to vote on the regulations in early May.