California's urban areas should prepare to keep conserving water until at least next fall, Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday.
In a new executive order, the governor said that if the drought continues through January, mandatory water cuts will remain in effect until October.
Brown's original order, issued in April, was effective only until February.
The governor's decision comes as California prepares for a potentially wet winter, courtesy of an El Niño storm system. Recent forecasts show the rains could stretch into Northern California, where precipitation is needed to blanket the mountains with snow and restore depleted reservoirs.
Brown's executive order directs state agencies to fast-track water projects that could help capture rain from the storms. Congressional Republicans from California have urged officials to come up with a plan to make the most of a potentially powerful El Niño.
However, the winter storms are not expected to end the drought, meaning Brown's water cuts probably would stay in place under his new executive order.
A wet winter helped end a drought in 1993, but that's unlikely this year, said Maury Roos, the state's chief hydrologist.
"You would have to have much above-average precipitation," he said.
The State Water Resources Control Board could modify current conservation rules, which currently call for a 25% statewide reduction in urban water use. California consumers have consistently met the target since the mandatory order took effect in June.
Felicia Marcus, the board's chair, said a potential change to the rules could reduce the conservation requirement if there's strong precipitation in months like February and March.
Brown's executive order "gives us the flexibility to consider all of those things," she said. “We just have to see where we are. No one can predict the weather.”
The governor's executive order also includes a provision to help speed up repairs at power plants harmed by wildfires. A geothermal facility that straddles Sonoma and Lake counties was damaged earlier this year.
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