The drought officially ended in most of California on Friday, but state officials vowed to clamp down on wasteful water use and impose a long-term conservation program that could create friction with urban water users.
Following a deluge of wet weather that left reservoirs brimming and the Sierra snowpack bulging, Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to a drought that brought California some of the driest periods in recorded history.
But the governor warned the state’s groundwater supplies remain perilously low in some areas, and the state will continue to forbid Californians from hosing off sidewalks, watering their lawns during or immediately after rainfalls, and other wasteful practices. Municipalities will have to keep reporting their monthly water usage. With climate change threatening to make future droughts worse, Brown and others called on Californians to remain cautious about water usage.
“The next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a prepared statement.
Dry weather began in earnest in early 2012. It wasn’t until January 2014, with conditions worsening, that Brown declared a state of emergency and the drought officially began. Friday’s decision rescinds that declaration, as well as most drought-related executive orders he issued when the drought reached its zenith in 2015.
Brown lifted the drought order in every county except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where the governor said emergency drinking water projects will continue to help communities where wells have gone dry. The state will also continue fighting the bark beetle outbreak that has killed millions of trees weakened by drought.
In practical terms, the lifting of the drought order will have little effect on most Californians. After imposing mandatory cutbacks of an average of 25 percent in 2015, the state went to a more relaxed system last spring that imposed no restrictions on urban water agencies that could show they had at least three years’ worth of water in reserve. The vast majority of urban agencies passed that test.
Local officials had pushed Brown to end the restrictions altogether, saying it was getting increasingly difficult to preach conservation as the rains pounded. Brown held off for months, however, and state officials said they were heartened that Californians by and large kept conserving water over the past year, even with the stiff mandatory curbs out of the way.
“We … have learned how much less we can use,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.
Even with Friday’s decision, California isn’t getting out of the conservation business. In response to an earlier order from Brown, five state agencies unveiled a long-range plan to rein in water use, called “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life.” Among other things, the plan will require all 410 urban agencies to meet new targets, based on their local climates, land-use characteristics and other factors. The urban agencies would set the targets themselves, based on parameters set by the state.
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