Newsom orders tighter water conservation rules – San Bernardino Sun

With the winter rainy season almost over and California heading into a third year of severe drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday ordered water agencies around the state to tighten conservation rules.

The move is the most far-reaching statewide water restriction since 2016, during California’s last drought.

“While we have made historic investments to protect our communities, economy and ecosystems from the worsening drought across the West, it is clear we need to do more,” Newsom said. “Today, I am calling on local water agencies to implement more aggressive water conservation measures.”

But Newsom did not issue mandatory statewide water cuts with fines for water districts and cities that fall short, as former Gov. Jerry Brown did in 2015 during the previous drought. Rather, Newsom’s order lets each local water provider set its own rules.

Newsom signed an executive order Monday requiring the state’s roughly 400 largest water providers, including cities, water districts and private water companies to put in place “level 2” of their water shortage contingency plans. Level 6 is the most restrictive.

Under state law, water providers are required to draw up such drought plans every five years, with six different levels of restrictions depending on the severity of each drought. Level 6 is the most severe.

Newsom signed an executive order Monday requiring the state’s roughly 400 largest water providers, including cities, water districts and private water companies to put in place “level 2” of their water shortage contingency plans.

Level 2 varies by provider. But in most cases, it requires limits on the number of days a week that residents can irrigate landscaping, and sets an overall water reduction target, usually in the 10% to 20% range. In some areas, level 2 also triggers higher rates or penalties for residents who use more than a set amount of water, depending on the local rules in each community.

The specifics for each water provider are expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks. East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.4 million people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is currently at Level 1 in its plan, which allows lawn watering three days a week. But San Jose Water Company, which serves 1 million people in the South Bay, already is at level 3, which limits lawn watering to two days a week and sets higher rates-per gallon for customers who use the most water.

Newsom also on Monday directed state regulators to issue rules to prohibit watering decorative grass at industrial and commercial buildings. Those rules, whose specifics will be written by the State Water Resources Control Board in the coming weeks, will not affect residential lawns, or recreational turf, such as baseball and soccer fields at parks and schools.

Newsom has been facing increasing calls to do more to address California’s worsening drought, which climate experts are saying has become as severe as the state’s punishing 2012-16 drought, which is likely to bring another severe summer fire season this year.

Most of California’s biggest reservoirs are depleted after three dry years, and little rain is expected for at least seven months, until next fall. The largest reservoir in California, Shasta, near Redding, is currently just 38% full. The second largest, Oroville, in Butte County, is 47% full.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack — the source of nearly one-third of California’s drinking water — hit 168% of normal on New Year’s Day after big storms in October and December. But with almost no rain and snow since then, the snowpack Monday had fallen to a dismal 39% of its historical average for that date.

Major cities and farm areas across California have seen sunny, warmer-than-normal weather in January, February and March, during what should be the wettest months of the year, a trend that scientists say is worsening due to climate change.

Despite Sunday night’s rain, March also will finish with below-average rain and snow.

Overall, 93% of California is in a severe drought now — up from 65% a year ago, including every Bay Area county and Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly report put out by the federal government and the University of Nebraska.

And 37% of the state is worse off, in “extreme drought,” up from 31% a year ago. Those areas include the Central Valley and much of the North Coast, from Sonoma County to Humboldt County.

Last July, Newsom declared a drought emergency and asked urban California residents to voluntarily reduce water use 15% from 2020 levels.

They have missed that target by a wide margin.

Cumulatively, Californians reduced urban water use statewide by just 6.4% from July through January — less than half of Newsom’s target — compared to the same time period in 2020, the State Water Resources Control Board announced earlier this month. Southern Californians cut back by only 5.1% while Bay Area residents reduced by 11%.

The trend has been heading in the wrong direction.

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