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California Regulators Could Loosen Water Conservation Mandate

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a 25 percent statewide reduction in urban water use in April after watching the state Department of Water Resources conduct its snow survey near Lake Tahoe.

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is signaling it’s ready to relax the state’s 25 percent urban water conservation mandate – at least a little bit – as the state enters its fifth year of drought.

“The changes we’re proposing are modest,” says Max Gomberg with the State Water Resources Control Board.

He says the proposal would let individual water agencies lower their local conservation mandates by up to four percent – if their regions have seen population growth; have particularly hot climates; or have invested in drought-resilient water supply projects.

Gov. Brown stood on a snowless Sierra Nevada mountainside this spring and mandated a statewide 25 percent reduction in urban water use.

“We’re in an historic drought, and that demands unprecedented action,” Brown said in April. 

In the weeks that followed, state regulators scrambled to issue individual water conservation mandates for each local water district. The rules drew criticism for not taking various factors into account – and now, the Brown administration is back with an updated proposal.

“If you’re adding to the supply by taking water that wasn’t previously potable and making it potable, then you’re getting credit,” Gomberg says.

So desalination or wastewater reuse projects would qualify; new groundwater storage would not.

Gomberg says if all eligible agencies apply for the reductions, Governor Brown’s 25 percent conservation mandate would drop to around 22 percent. But “if we come to April and El Niño has not come through, it could go up again.”

The water board will vote on the proposed changes in early February.

 drought

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio