SACRAMENTA, Calif. (AP) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened Monday to impose mandatory water restrictions if residents will not use less at their discretion as the drought drags on and the hot summer months approach.
Newsom raised this opportunity at meetings with representatives of major water agencies, including those providing Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Democrat governor avoided serious, mandatory reductions in water use and instead advocated that local water agencies be able to establish rules for water use in the cities and towns they provide.
California usually gets most of the annual rain and snow from January to March, but this year these months have been the driest in at least a century. Despite calls for conservation, water use in the state rose sharply in March – by 19 percent compared to the same month in 2020 – and News is now considering changing his approach.
“Every water agency in the state needs to take more aggressive action to report a drought emergency and implement conservation measures,” Newsama said in a statement.
California is experiencing a third year of drought, and virtually all areas of the state are drought classified as severe or extreme drought. Due to the low water level in state reservoirs, the state releases only a limited amount of water from its reserves.
Last summer, News called on Californians to voluntarily reduce water consumption by 15 percent by taking a five-minute shower and avoiding baths, running only full-load washing machines and dishwashers and limiting the use of water to clean open areas. Water used for agriculture is not taken into account.
Several local water officials who attended the meeting said the tone was positive and focused on how all institutions can work together to promote conservation.
“From our perspective, it works best when local water managers decide local water conditions, but we try to support the state, we try to support the governor as best we can,” said Ed Stevenson, general manager of the department. Alameda County Water District who attended the meeting.
About 40 percent of the district’s water comes from government supplies. Its water use has fallen by about 7 percent since Newsom called for voluntary conservation.
At the same time, the San Diego County water supply since July has not needed water from government supplies, in part because it relies on a combination of other sources, including a desalination plant, said board chairman Gary Croucher. But, according to him, the district still has an important role responding to drought. The government is made up of 24 water agencies, including the city of San Diego, where water use has fallen 1.3 percent since News called for austerity.
“If someone wants to say that we are independent and we have everything in order, only on their own, they are deceiving themselves. We really need to work together as a group of collaborators, ”he said.
How quickly Newsom could impose mandatory restrictions if compliance did not improve was unclear. Spokeswoman Erin Melan said the administration would overestimate progress in compliance in just “a few weeks”. She did not suggest an indicator that the administration would use to measure success.
Newsom has already moved to force more protection of local water areas. The water administration on Tuesday will vote on whether to ban the watering of ornamental grasses and force local agencies to step up conservation efforts.
After the last drought, the state began requiring cities and other water areas to submit drought response plans detailing six levels of conservation depending on the amount of water. Newsom has asked the council to require these areas to move to “level 2” of their plans, which envisages a 20 percent water shortage.
Each district can set its own rules for “level 2,” and they often include things like further restricting water use for outdoor needs and paying people to install more efficient appliances or landscaping that requires less water. They should include a communication plan to call for compliance.
If approved, these restrictions will take effect on June 10. Water agencies that fail to do so can be fined $ 500 a day, as can businesses or other institutions that continue to water ornamental grass, said Edward Ortiz, a spokesman for the Water Council.
Last week, while visiting a water treatment plant in Los Angeles County, Newsom said he was better informed about the need to save water with 39 million residents. He has included $ 100 million in his budget to share drought reports.
During the last drought in 2015, former Gov. Jerry Brown issued a mandatory 25 percent reduction in total water use in the state, and the state water council set requirements for how much each water area had to reduce depending on their existing water use; areas with higher water consumption were asked to cut more. Failure to comply with water agencies can result in fines of up to $ 10,000 per day.
The State Water Council has imposed some restrictions across the state, such as banning people from watering lawns for 48 hours after rain while spraying on sidewalks. People can be fined $ 500 a day for violations.
The state as a whole needs to think about how to set up California to better fight the drought, said Dr. Newsha Ajami, a water expert from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studied conservation reports during the last drought.
“We need to have a long-term strategy of how we will deal with these more frequent hot and dry droughts that we are experiencing, and actually do things that we are not in a drought,” she said.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the Department of Water and Electricity of Los Angeles, East Bay Municipal District, Southern California Metropolitan Water District, Alameda County, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Valley Water, San Water District Water Supply. Government, California Water Agencies Association, California Urban Water Agencies and the California Municipal Utilities Association. The meeting was not open to the press and the public.