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California Water Regulators Adopt New Conservation Rules

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Frances Spivy-Weber, right, of the State Water Resources Control Board, discusses emergency conservation regulations at a board meeting in 2015.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Updated at 8:50pm: As the state heads into it's fourth year of drought, the California State Water Resources Control Board voted Tuesday night to adopt some of the strictest water conservation rules in California history. The rules comes just as the state releases dismal water conservation numbers for March.

Under the rules, urban water suppliers must cut consumption by up to 36 percent. The rules place communities in nine tiers. The higher the tier, the more they must conserve. The city of Lincoln must conserve 36 percent. Jennifer Hansen with the city told the board it will be difficult to achieve because irrigation is already limited to two days a week.

“Going down to one day a week watering, we’ll be seeing brown lawns. We’ll be seeing lots of vegetation dying," says Hansen. "Trying to go down to zero days a week watering to meet our 36 percent on average throughout the year may even require more stringent measures for outdoor water use,” she says.

But cities angling to be placed in a lower tier didn’t go over well with board members

“If we reduce people’s requirements then where do we make it up? That’s the big question mark with all these comments - can you bring me to a lower tier, okay, but it all has to add up to 25 percent,” says water board member Steven Moore.

Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order directs cities and towns to collectively cut water use by 25 percent compared to 2013. The water board based the rules upon the number of gallons people use per day during the summer months.

It did not factor in climate differences or past conservation efforts or give credit to communities that recycle water. Urban suppliers that can’t reach the goal could face a $10,000 fine. But Max Gomberg with the board says those fines are unlikely.

“The goal is not going to be to issue fines. The goal is going to be to work with the supplier to find what other steps can be taken to get that conservation percentage up,” says Gomberg.

It will be an uphill battle. Water conservation numbers for March show Californians only conserved 3.6 percent. For the last nine months, the conservation rate is less than 9 percent, a far cry from 25 percent.