Citing the state's improved hydrology and impressive regional conservation, officials at Southern California's massive water wholesaler voted Tuesday to rescind the cuts they imposed on regional water deliveries last year.
Effective immediately, the Southland cities and water districts that make purchases from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will no longer be subjected to so-called allocations or the punitive surcharges that come with exceeding them.
The less stringent conditions adopted by MWD's board call for continued conservation, but also offer the latest signal that California's multiyear drought is easing.
"We would not be taking this action today were it not for the public's support and diligence," board Chairman Randy Record said in a news release.
Still, he added, "Sustaining wise water use remains as essential as ever."
MWD made waves in April 2015 when its board approved a cut in deliveries to member water districts for only the fourth time in the agency's history. The vote came just two weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown issued an unprecedented executive order calling for a statewide 25% reduction in urban water use.
The cutbacks took effect in July.
As a water wholesaler, Metropolitan supplies more than two dozen cities and water agencies — including Los Angeles — with water from Northern California and the Colorado River. Those customers, in turn, sell the water to residents and businesses in cities and towns across Southern California.
Although the water rationing was intended to reduce MWD deliveries by 15% overall, customers got different allocations that were calculated according to a complex formula. Member agencies that needed more water than they were allocated were hit with financial penalties that made the additional water more expensive.
But those allocations will now come to an end.
"All of our member agencies met the water-savings targets we set, which is why we are confident that lower water use will continue into the future," MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said in the news release.
In a letter to the board, MWD staff members said the agency will probably increase the amount of water stored in reservoirs this year and next, rendering an allocation plan unnecessary. Kightlinger said it would mark the first time in four years that the agency will be able to replenish its reserves.
"We might be able to breathe a little easier," Kightlinger said.
Officials also repeatedly cited the relatively robust State Water Project allocation as evidence that the cutbacks could end.
In April, officials announced that contractors served by the project — including MWD — would get about 60% of the water they requested. By comparison, contractors got only 20% in 2015 and only 5% in 2014.
MWD's action comes one day after Brown issued a new executive order, instructing state water regulators to make several bans on wasteful water practices permanent.
Also, on Monday, the staff of the State Water Resources Control Board recommended changes to the emergency drought rules that would allow communities around the state to relax or even drop their mandatory conservation targets.
"We're making a shift that recognizes supply conditions have improved," water board conservation manager Max Gomberg said.
For more on the California drought and water, follow me on Twitter @ByMattStevens