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California Suspends its Mandatory 25 Percent Water Usage Cuts

California Suspends its Mandatory 25 Percent Water Usage Cuts

SACRAMENTO, CA - After a wetter-than-average winter and massive savings in water usage, California has overturned its mandatory 25 percent cuts for statewide urban water usage on Wednesday, instead moving to allow local areas to set their own conservation standards.

The new rules, adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board and to take effect June 1, are a sharp change from Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order issued in April last year. The previous reduction mandate had forced individuals, businesses, and local governments to curb watering of gardens and lawns, take shorter showers and flush toilets less frequently. Under the new rules, according to The New York Times, local governments will set reduction guidelines based on their own water projections, with the state reviewing and evaluating whether or not to impose additional restrictions. 

California Governor Jerry Brown

As was also true of the original executive order, these rules will not apply to agriculture, which is covered by separate regulations. Last year when his new mandates were first revealed, Governor Jerry Brown said in support of keeping farmers out of the restrictions during an interview with ABC's "This Week,”  Host, Martha Raddatz, “[Farmers are] not watering their lawn or taking longer showers. They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America.”

This switch in policy from the Water Resources Board comes after what many perceive as a particularly wet winter, with the northern part of the state receiving above-average rain and snowfall for the first time since 2010-11. Several of the state’s largest reservoirs are near or above normal depths for this time of year, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Felicia Marcus, Chair, Water Resources Control Board

“We are still in a drought, but we are no longer in the-worst-snow-pack-in-500-years drought,” explained Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Board, according to The New York Times. “We had thought we are heading toward a cliff. We were worried we were in our own Australian millennial drought. We wanted to make sure people didn’t keep pouring water on their lawns with wild abandon.” 

Still, however, more than 70 percent of the state remains in severe, extreme, or exceptional drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, and the Sierra snowpack currently sits at about 33 percent of normal for the time of year.

Left: California's Drought Condtions as of March 15, 2016. Right: Drought Conditions as of April 19, 2016. Graphic via The National Drought Mitigation Center.

Not all are happy about this switch in policy, either. Some environmental groups predict this move will send the wrong message to Californians who are still not out of the woods, as far as the drought is concerned. 

“I think it’s risky and unnecessary,” Sara Aminzadeh, Executive Director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, told the The Wall Street Journal. “I think there’s also a danger this will send a message to the public that the drought is over.”

Will this move be the right one for California’s massive agricultural community? While its too early to tell how the loosening of rules may pan out, AndNowUKnow will keep you apprised to the latest developments.