Shift toward dry weather prompts fresh water limits

Anticipating that California’s massive drought over the last four years could just be the beginning of longer and more frequent droughts to come, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Monday mandating long-term water conservation throughout the state.

The mandatory 25 percent reduction ordered last year has been rolled back, but some of the restrictions put in place will be made permanent and individual water districts will be expected to continue to reduce water use.

“What happened to us these last few years is what will happen more often as climate change accelerates,” state Water Resources Control Board chair Felicia Marcus said Monday:

 “We need to use this moment wisely to prepare for the challenging years ahead.”

The situation is much less dire than when Brown imposed his emergency order. El Nino precipitation over the winter has filled reservoirs and added snowpack. But whether next winter will bring more rain or send the state back to extreme drought conditions remains unclear.

The permanent urban prohibitions that will remain in place include hosing off driveways and sidewalks, washing cars without using a shut-off nozzle, using non-recirculated water in decorative fountains, causing runoff when watering lawns or within 48 hours of rainfall, and irrigating turf on public medians.

Gone are rules requiring restaurants to provide water only on request and for hotels to give guests an option to not have their linens laundered daily. Water officials said such restrictions were intended mainly to make tourists aware of the state’s drought conditions and aren’t necessary for now.

But should drought conditions return, the state could quickly bring back the emergency restrictions.

The state will collect monthly data on water use for local agencies and post it publicly on a website, offering support to reduce water usage and finding ways to deal with agencies that chronically fail to meet conservation goals.

Officials hailed California’s success in reducing water use, amounting to a nearly 24 percent reduction between June 2015 and March 2016 compared with 2013, but said it was important to continue that conservation rather than treat water as limitless after some much-needed but still inadequate rainfall.

Brown said in a statement:

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before. … But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”