Latest revision to proposed drought regulations would ease cuts for some

Latest revision to proposed drought regulations would ease cuts for some
Reducing outdoor irrigation will be a primary focus of mandatory statewide water use cuts. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Proposed drought regulations released Tuesday would reduce the amount of water cuts some local agencies would have to make to meet Gov. Jerry Brown's order to slash statewide water use 25%.

About a week ahead of a scheduled vote on controversial drought rules, the State Water Resources Control Board made a series of minor tweaks to the plan to implement Brown's mandatory statewide water-use reduction. After facing criticism from local agencies that will have to make the cuts, the board also fiercely defended the fairness of its plan to make areas that have used the most water to now make the biggest conservation gains.


"We know these challenges can be attained," said Caren Trgovcich, chief deputy director for the state water board.

The board staff has drafted the drought regulations under tight deadlines that call for implementation of the new rules roughly six weeks after Brown’s April 1 order imposing the state’s first-ever mandatory water cuts. 

Intended to achieve a statewide 25% reduction in overall urban water use, the proposed rules assign individual conservation targets to local water districts ranging from 8% to 36%.

As the board has revised its draft regulations, some water suppliers submitted adjustments to the water use data they had reported to the state, said Max Gomberg, a board scientist. The board used that data to assign water-reduction targets to the state's more than 400 urban water suppliers.

Under Tuesday's revised framework with new data, a handful of agencies would be required to make less drastic water cuts. For example, Newport Beach was previously told it would have to cut water use 35%. A revised framework issued several days ago would have required a 32% cut. Tuesday's framework would reduce the cut to 28%.

The latest version of the plan would require only 85 suppliers to reduce water consumption 36%, the largest cut required. In the previous draft, 94 suppliers would have been required to cut that amount.

Though the board has modified its proposal, the changes have failed to quiet criticism that it didn't adequately account for past water savings by local districts or recognize climatic differences that influence water use.

Some Northern California water agencies have questioned whether the state board has the legal authority to mandate the cuts.

But Brown, who appoints the board, has shown no signs of backing down. "We think they're reasonable," Brown said Tuesday. "We think they're enforceable."

Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus reiterated as much Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

"I think we'd rather be focused on how to make this work, rather than be fighting over it," she said.

Follow @boxall and @ByMattStevens for coverage of water and the California drought.