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Calif. water board to crack down on urban waste

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

As many California farms grapple with little or no water this summer, the state may be about to crack down on urban water users' wasteful practices.

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — As many California farms are left with little or no water this summer because of drought, state water officials say they’re about to crack down on urban water users’ wasteful practices.

As overall water use statewide has declined by 5 percent according to a state survey, water managers say cities have failed to cut their measured water use by 20 percent as called for by Gov. Jerry Brown in two drought declarations this year.

The governor’s order directs the State Water Resources Control Board to consider adopting emergency regulations to help local and regional water districts reach conservation goals and preserve potable water supplies.

By mid-July, the board could declare as unreasonable uses the over-watering of lawns and other outdoor ornamental vegetation and require cities to provide data on how they’re dealing with leaky pipes, from which a community could lose as much as 30 percent of its water, Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said.

“It’s an issue of what’s reasonable,” Marcus told the Capital Press. “It’s not like we will force all of urban California to go on a drastic rationing campaign. It’s more about how do we as a community think about what’s reasonable.”

Polls have shown that many urban residents don’t feel the impacts of the drought because they’re relying on imported water, Marcus said.

“Certainly they are just as connected but they just don’t know it,” she said.

The board’s actions come as many farmers who rely on state or federal water deliveries are going without water this summer, and junior water rights holders throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds have been told to stop diverting from the rivers and their tributaries.

Earlier this year, the Sacramento City Council and some other local governments issued strict rationing orders. But a state survey of urban water suppliers in late May and early June found that only 30 percent had mandatory water use cuts in place.

The state found that large cities supplied by wholesale water agencies have relied on stored reserves, so they haven’t instituted significant conservation efforts so far. But Marcus said it’s a mistake for cities to assume that their storage supplies will get them through.

“They really are doing a disservice to their customers because we don’t know how long this drought will last,” she said. “The Australians didn’t really do anything for six years because they were used to a three-year drought cycle.

“People talk about El Nino as if it’s going to save us and it’s not,” she said. “It may rain, but it’s just as likely that it won’t.”


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