Despite nightmare-provoking threats of El Niño storms, Los Angeles remained mostly dry this winter. But you might not have guessed that after Gov. Jerry Brown and the state water board lifted statewide restrictions last week in favor of new regulations.
The State Water Resources Control Board adopted a new conservation approach that replaces the percentage-based regulations – first set at 25 percent last year by Brown’s Executive Order. According to the water board, statewide savings from June 2015 to March 2016 increased 24 percent compared with the same months in 2013.
“Drought conditions are far from over but have improved enough that we can step back from our unprecedented top-down target setting,” said board chair Felicia Marcus. “We’ve moved to a ‘show us the water’ approach that allows local agencies to demonstrate that they are prepared for three more lousy water years. This reporting will show us what agencies plan to do and how they do throughout the year.”
The new regulations, which take effect in June, are called the “stress test” approach in which standards are based on each agency’s and region’s circumstances. All agencies must ensure they have a three-year water supply assuming three more years of drought. But since the drought is less severe statewide than in the past few years, some cities will be able to adjust their targets accordingly. Agencies that would face shortages while facing three additional dry years will be required to save enough to make up the difference. If a water agency estimates a 10 percent shortfall, their mandatory benchmark is 10 percent reduction.
Marcus said the board will monitor each agency and be prepared to come back with the 25-percent state mandate early next year if necessary.
The adopted regulations also keep in place the specific prohibitions against watering sidewalks with a hose, overwatering or water runoff.
“El Niño didn’t save us, but this winter gave us some relief,” Marcus said. “It’s a reprieve, though, not a hall pass, for much if not all of California. We need to keep conserving and work on more efficient practices, like keeping lawns on a water diet or transitioning away from [lawns.] We don’t want to cry wolf, but we can’t put our heads in the sand either.”
Penny Falcon, manager of water conservation policy legislation and grants for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LAWDP), said the department has a 14 percent conservation target and has met cumulative compliance of the state’s water conservation target since June 2015. Falcon said LADWP can continue to meet the state board target. Falcon also said LADWP supports the regulation changes the board has adopted.
“In response to the El Niño that did or didn’t happen, I think it’s better to let agencies identify on an individual basis and report it to the state and adjust accordingly,” she said. “It’s basically looking for everybody to self certify.”
But thanks to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Executive Directive 5 from 2014, LADWP is already aiming at a stricter goal than that set by the state – a 20 percent reduction by January 2017.
“We’ve always had pretty aggressive conservation goals in L.A.,” Falcon said. “We are on target to meet that goal. But we need our customers to stay the course.”
She said Angelenos have “been fantastic” when it comes to responding to calls to conserve. But she said L.A.’s aqueducts are approximately at two-thirds of their average level. LADWP will continue to purchase water, but “not nearly as much” as the past few years, as L.A. is in a much better situation.
“We are still asking customers to use water efficiently,” she said, explaining restrictions such as citywide watering limits are still in place. “But it’s not as bad.”
She said the state board took a conservative approach to ensure there isn’t a water shortage. Falcon said it’s important for customers to understand that some regions in northern California received average or above average rainfall or snowpack.
“To say [those regions] need to cut back? That’s a hard sell,” she said. “It’s important to keep the trust of the customers and that we react [to the drought] accordingly, so when we do need them to cut back, they respond.”
Falcon said LADWP will continue to reach out to the community to help improve water use at home and inform customers to capture water when it rains and how to take advantage of the expanding rebate program.
The state’s new regulations will be in effect from June until at least January 2017.
Information on projections and calculations for water conservation standard rates will be released to the public. LADWP will submit data by June 22.
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