In a major shift in water-conservation policy, California state regulators voted Wednesday, May 18, to lift conservation targets put in place last year as a result of the state’s recent historic drought. In place of the statewide 25-percent conservation rule for all residents and businesses, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a new policy allowing individual water agencies throughout the state to adopt their own policies based on anticipated local demand and overall health of water supplies.
The old rules had been in place since last June, when both critical snow-pack levels in the Sierra Nevadas and water levels in the state’s major reservoirs were all at historic lows. The resulting conservation measures impacted homeowners and businesses across the state, which in many areas responded with water savings that came close to, met or even exceeded the 25 percent threshold. Areas with higher consumption rates, centered mostly around the major cities, were subject to cutbacks as high as 28 percent. In stark contrast, state officials acknowledged the new rules could result in zero conservation targets for some areas.
The good news comes as the result of an above average 2015/16 rainy season, the first in five years. North to south, reservoirs are now at or above historic averages for this time of year, but snow-pack levels remain at about one third normal. More than 70 percent of the state remains in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.