(dailynews.com) State water officials extended drought-triggered water savings measures Wednesday, with mixed reactions from Southern California water suppliers even as statewide conservation appears to remain relatively high.
While many agencies including the Municipal Water District of Orange County and Eastern Municipal Water District urged state officials to drop or shorten an extension, others including the city of Los Angeles and the Laguna Beach County Water District supported an extension.
State Water Resources Control Board members indicated plans to revisit the matter in May after the normal end of the rainy season.
Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey told the board at its Sacramento meeting that the district continues sending customers the message that conservation must be a way of life.
“We’re going to be in drought cycles and we need to live with that,” she said at the Cal/EPA building Wednesday afternoon.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack water content is already at 127 percent of the April 1 average, yet half the state is locked in a sixth year of drought.
After about an hour of public comment on both sides of the issue, the five-member board unanimously extended an amended statewide emergency water conservation regulation for 270 days.
Hydrologists and drought experts “have the knowledge that the drought may be coming to a close,” board member Steven Moore said.
But only Gov. Jerry Brown, who declared California was in a drought state of emergency in January 2014, can declare that emergency over.
The entire state needs to work together to reduce water use, which can impact climate change, Moore added.
“The drought could be over, but the need to conserve water is not,” he said a day after more than a foot of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California continued soaking up rain.
Under the resolution, Californians still would be expected to reduce water use and more than 400 of the state’s largest water suppliers must report the savings monthly to the board.
But 3,000 small suppliers will no longer have to report monthly, after half weren’t doing so, board Climate and Conservation Manager Max Gomberg told the board.
In addition, water customers must continue avoiding wasteful practices outlined in the original regulation, such as hosing down sidewalks and driveways, washing cars with hoses not equipped with shut-off nozzles, creating landscaping runoff or watering landscaping within 48 hours of measurable rain.
Earlier in the meeting, Gomberg said statewide cumulative water savings from June 2015 through December 2016, compared with the same period in 2013, was 22.5 percent — a slight dip from November’s cumulative 22.6 percent.
With cumulative savings at 22.8 for October and 23 for September, conservation has virtually leveled off.
“Conservation numbers have remained incredibly strong,” Gomberg said.
The current cumulative savings amount to 793 billion gallons or 2,434,323 acre-feet of water saved.
State residents saved 20.6 percent more water in December than the same month in 2013.
The Sierra snowpack water content, which creates spring and summer runoff that help build water supplies, sits at 184 percent of normal for Feb. 8 and the south Sierra snowpack measures 208 percent of normal.
Yet 51 percent of the state — including most of Southern California and part of Northern California — remain in a drought, although with less intensity than recent years.
Since at least Jan. 24, northwestern Los Angeles County, parts of Santa Barbara and Kern counties, and most of Ventura County are now the only part of Southern California, and the state, to remain in extreme drought.
The California Department of Water Resources announced Wednesday that, according to new NASA radar satellite maps, groundwater pumping is causing areas of the San Joaquin Valley to sink rapidly, threatening state and federal aqueducts and flood control structures.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged the region’s residents to save water to help the environment, which he said would also save money.
“The drought is not over, especially here in Southern California,” he said at a City Hall press conference on another issue.
“Even as we have reservoirs that will get close to filling up, remember, the true reservoirs are the ones in the ground, and we’re still pretty bone-dry in most of our aquifers in the city,” Garcetti added.
At the board meeting, Eastern Municipal Water District General Manager Paul Jones was among many suppliers who said current hydrologic conditions and precipitation levels don’t “rise to the level of an emergency” any longer.
Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus supported taking another look at the regulation after the rainy season. Decision makers have to consider the needs of all communities, and some remain in pain, she said.
“What does ‘statewide’ mean? Are we one state, or are we multiple states?” Marcus added.