Life can be confusing. But fear not. We'll start by examining the latest news on this topic from Sacramento. This first article is titled "Many California cities predict no conservation requirements under new water rules," and it comes to us from the legendary Sacramento Bee (link).
Before throngs of TV news cameras in April last year, Gov. Jerry Brown stood on a patch of bare Sierra dirt that should have been covered in snow and told Californians they had to be unified in conserving water.
Noting that his call for voluntary conservation had not resulted in a significant change in habits among urban and suburban residents the previous summer, Brown said that he had no choice but to order urban water providers to collectively reduce water use by 25 percent compared with 2013. “We’re in an historic drought,” Brown said. “And that demands unprecedented action.”
Flash forward to this week.
From a statewide perspective, conditions have marginally improved: Northern California had a good winter, and reservoirs are healthy. But Sierra snowpack remains well below average, and much of the state remains in a drought. What’s strikingly different is the message delivered this week about how conservation will play out in 2016.
The new rules adopted Wednesday by the State Water Resources Control Board allow more than 400 urban water agencies to propose their own conservation standards. Agencies will “self-certify” a target based on their assessments of the health of their water supplies and anticipated local demand.
On Thursday, several California water agencies told The Sacramento Bee that, based on the new rules, they expect their assessments to show they have plenty of water, and to largely back away from requiring customers to reduce water use tied to a specific target. That was the response from agencies in the Sacramento region, where a relatively wet winter has bolstered reservoirs and where groundwater supplies remain strong. But also, more surprisingly, from agencies in Southern California, which received very little rainfall this year.
This next bit of water use info is titled "In Sharp Reversal, California Suspends Water Restrictions," and descends upon us from none other than the venerable New York Times. You can get all the news that fits by clicking here.
California on Wednesday suspended its mandatory statewide 25 percent reduction in urban water use, telling local communities to set their own conservation standards after a relatively wet winter and a year of enormous savings in urban water use.
The new rules are a sharp change in policy for a state struggling to manage one of the worst droughts in its history. They came after a winter in which El Niño storms fell short of what meteorologists projected — particularly in the southern part of the state — but still partly filled parched reservoirs in Northern California and, more critically, partly replenished the mountain snowpacks that provide water into the spring and summer.
And Californians, responding to an executive order issued in April last year by Gov. Jerry Brown, reduced their use of potable urban water by 24 percent compared with 2013 levels. Officials said they were hopeful that reduction would prove permanent because of changes in water use such as replacing lawns with drought-tolerant shrubs.
The rules, adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board, are likely to mean a huge rollback — and in some places, an elimination — of water reduction mandates that have forced people, businesses and governments to curb watering of gardens and lawns, take shorter showers and flush toilets less frequently.
That's the latest statewide news. They're loosening up on water restrictions and people can now presumably go back to whatever it is they were doing before everything dried up.
So what is the news from Sierra Madre? The little city that often prefers to march to the beat of a different drum? A Pasadena Now article called "Sierra Madre Water Penalties Set to Increase" (link), breaks it to us this way.
This year’s El Niño rains have had a limited impact on our part of the state. Water conservation remains as critical as ever as California enters into its fifth year of drought. Sierra Madre City Council approved a measure earlier this month that would increase the penalty rate assessed on excess water use.
The City of Sierra Madre would like to thank its water-wise customers for doing their part to make every drop count. The latest water billing numbers for May show 75% of Sierra Madre customers met, or outperformed, their water conservation targets. The remaining 25% of customers are of increasing concern for the City, as many of the customers who exceeded their water use target in the month have a repeat history of doing so.
The City of Sierra Madre will introduce a new water penalty rate beginning on July 1, 2016. The rate will apply to each billing unit used in excess of a customer’s conservation target. The current penalty rate is $5.04/unit. The new rate will increase to $10.72, or two times the Tier 4 rate.
The Pasadena Star News is also on the Sierra Madre water tip, and in their article, "Excessive Water Users In Sierra Madre Face Stiffer Penalties" (link), says this:
The city council voted Tuesday to increase the penalty rate starting in July for water customers who exceed their monthly goals.
The vote came just a day after Governor Jerry Brown announced a new set of water mandates Monday and emphasized the continuing threat from the drought on the state.
As part of continuing water conservation, the council asked city staffers last month to focus on pushing a trio of measures to achieve their goals. In addition to the stiffer overuse penalties, staff will reach out to the city’s top water users who have exceeded their conservation targets and renew the city’s water conservation campaign.
The new penalty rate for excess water use will be $10.72 per billing unit, an increase of 64 cents over the previous penalty. Customers are on four different rate tiers and the new penalty is double the Tier 4 rate, the highest. The penalty will apply to customers who exceed their goal regardless of their original rate tier.
Though the number of customers exceeding their conservation goals has been reduced, the last two billing cycles for February and March show there were still more than 1,000 customers who exceeded their conservations limits by at least 1 unit. There were 41 who exceeded their goal by 50 or more units, and 11 customers who exceeded their goal by 100 or more units.
Though the increase could bring in more than $80,000 for the city’s water fund revenue, staff noted that they hoped the measure would encourage conservation.
I wouldn't want to automatically assume that Sacramento is correct here, and everyone should be permitted to just go water hog wild again. You can only imagine the pressures being exerted up there by certain big special interests that want to get back to the good old days.
But still, it certainly does looks like Sacramento and Sierra Madre are going in very different directions. Go figure.