California Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened Monday to impose mandatory water restrictions if residents don’t use less on their own as the drought drags on and the hottest summer months approach.
Newsom raised that possibility in a meeting with representatives from major water agencies, including those that serve Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area, his office said in a news release. The Democratic governor has avoided issuing sweeping, mandatory cuts in water use and instead favored an approach that gives local water agencies the power to set rules for water use in the cities and towns they serve. .
January through March is usually when most of California’s annual rain and snow falls, but this year those months were the driest in at least a century. Despite calls for conservation, the state’s water use rose sharply in March (up 19% compared to the same month in 2020) and now Newsom is considering changing his approach.
“All water agencies across the state must take more aggressive steps to communicate about the drought emergency and implement conservation measures,” Newsom said in a statement.
California is in its third year of drought and virtually all areas of the state are classified as severe or extreme drought.
Last summer, Newsom asked Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% by doing things like taking five-minute showers and avoiding baths, using only the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads, and limiting water use for cleaning. outdoor areas. But the residents have not reached the goal.
It was unclear how soon Newsom could impose mandatory restrictions if conservation doesn’t improve. He plans to meet again with water agencies in two months, his office said. Spokeswoman Erin Mellon said the administration would reassess conservation progress in just “a few weeks.” She did not offer a metric that management would use to measure it.
Newsom has already moved to force more conservation on local water districts. He directed the State Water Resources Control Board to consider a ban on watering decorative grass, such as lawns in office parks, and force local agencies to step up their conservation efforts.
After the last drought, the state began requiring cities and other water districts to submit drought response plans that detail six levels of conservation based on the amount of water available. Newsom has asked the board to require those districts to move to “Tier 2” of their plans, which assumes a 20% water shortage.
Each district can set its own rules for “Tier 2,” and they often include things like further limiting water use for outdoor purposes and paying people to install more efficient appliances or landscaping that uses less water. They must include a communication plan to encourage local residents to use less water.
The board will vote on those measures on Tuesday and they would go into effect on June 10.
Last week, while touring a water recycling plant in Los Angeles County, Newsom spoke about the need to better communicate the need to conserve water to the state’s 39 million people. He has included $100 million in his budget for drought messages.
During the last drought, from 2012 to 2016, former Governor Jerry Brown issued a mandatory 25% cut in the state’s overall water use, and the state water board set requirements for how much each water district had to cut based on of your existing water use. ; districts where people used more water were asked to cut more. Water agencies could be fined up to $10,000 a day if they don’t comply.
Newsom’s current approach gives local water districts some more flexibility, and he said it’s important to recognize that different parts of the state have their own water needs.
The state water board has imposed some statewide restrictions, such as banning people from watering lawns for 48 hours after storms and banning sprinklers from watering sidewalks. People can be fined $500 a day for violations.
Meeting attendees included representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Alameda County Water District, Utilities Commission San Francisco Publics, Valley Water, San Diego County Water Department. Authority, the California Association of Water Agencies, the California Urban Water Agencies, and the California Association of Municipal Utilities. The meeting was not open to the press or the public.