The state has lifted its mandated water conservation targets, but Merced-area leaders are predicting local water restrictions won’t loosen as they look to be stewards of the water supply.
Marking a major shift in California water policy, state regulators voted about two weeks ago to lift the statewide conservation targets that for the past year have required dramatic cutbacks in irrigation and household water use for urban communities across the state.
The new rules adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board allow individual water agencies to propose their own conservation standards, based on the health of their water supplies and anticipated local demand.
“We’re still in a drought, we’re still waiting for the groundwater to recharge,” said Craig Locke, the public works director for Chowchilla. “So, on the consumer end, there’s no change.”
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Leaders there still are looking into a local plan, he said, and in the meantime are maintaining the status quo on two days of sprinkling a week. The city still has time to develop its own sustainability plan.
We’re still in a drought, we’re still waiting for the groundwater to recharge. So, on the consumer end, there’s no change.
Craig Locke, public works director, Chowchilla
The state made some permanent conservation measures, including prohibiting irrigation runoff into streets, watering street medians, irrigation within 48 hours of rainfall and washing cars without a hose equipped with a shutoff nozzle.
Turning the keys over to cities and water districts means they won’t face “humongous” conservation goals, said Leah Brown, Merced’s water conservation specialist.
The focus moves to developing a plan in preparation of the next three-year drought, she said. “(The state) wants us to really take a close look at sustainable groundwater,” she said.
About a year ago, the state granted Merced $2.5 million to install water meters into homes that didn’t have them. Those meters are almost entirely installed, Brown said, and could be in full operation later this year.
Last month’s action effectively brings an end to an unprecedented conservation mandate, in place since last June, that required urban water districts statewide to cut usage an average of 25 percent over 2013.
Last month’s action effectively brings an end to an unprecedented conservation mandate, in place since last June, that required urban water districts statewide to cut usage by an average of 25 percent compared with 2013 numbers. And it represents a sharp turn from the rhetoric of state officials for much of last year, when they warned that the drought represented a new reality that required permanent lifestyle changes and universal sacrifice.
Under the old rules, communities were targeted for cuts based on consumption – with bigger users hit with bigger cuts – rather than the state of their local supplies. Most Merced-area water agencies had to cut consumption 25 percent or more.
Water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said the new rules give water districts a chance to prove themselves without the state dictating harsh terms. But she said they also maintain oversight by continuing to require water districts to report how much they conserve each month. “Rather than speculate on what people will do and what will happen, we have a learning lab over the next seven months,” she said.
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.