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Regulators: California Fell Far Short Of Water-Saving Target

Water runs down a sidewalk on Adrian Street in Point Loma after the grass was watered by automatic sprinklers, April 10, 2015.
Katie Schoolov
Water runs down a sidewalk on Adrian Street in Point Loma after the grass was watered by automatic sprinklers, April 10, 2015.

Californians conserved little water in March and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste, state regulators reported Tuesday, saying residents and communities again fell short of Gov. Jerry Brown's voluntary water savings target.

The State Water Resources Control Board received the update as it considers sweeping mandatory emergency drought regulations to protect water supplies in the parched state.

Brown has argued that the voluntary targets were insufficient and that Californians needed a jolt to take conservation seriously.

A survey of local water departments released at the start of the two-day meeting shows water use fell less than 4 percent in March compared with the same month in 2013. Overall savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer, even though Brown set a voluntary 20 percent target.

The board also has begun tracking enforcement of water rules. Statewide, agencies reported sending at least 8,762 warnings for water waste and issuing 682 penalties.

Most communities reported sending fewer than 20 warnings for violating water rules in March, but a few were aggressive. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issued 1,364 warnings, while Fresno issued 1,221.

Sacramento, Fresno, Madera, Tulare and the Montecito Water District in Santa Barbara County were the only agencies that reported penalizing more than 20 customers in March, mostly through fines.

Lush lawns and verdant landscapes are first on the chopping block under the rules being considered, which would bar cities from using drinking-quality water on street median grass and encourage homeowners to let lawns go brown to meet local mandatory water reduction targets.

Those conservation targets are among the most contentious provisions of the proposed rules. The board plans to order each city to cut water use by as much as 36 percent compared to 2013, the year before the governor declared a drought emergency.

Some local water departments are blasting the proposal as unrealistic and unfair. They say achieving steep cuts could mean increased water rates, ripped up grass and new restrictions on filling pools and washing cars.

Board officials say they expect to start seeing water savings as soon as June and are willing to intervene to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag. Summer is the peak water-guzzling season in California.

The regulations before the board would also ban new California homes and buildings from watering lawns unless they meet new efficiency standards. With public comments, a vote on the rules might not come until Wednesday.

The board has already adopted other water restrictions: Californians cannot water lawns two days after rainfall, wash cars with hoses that don't shut off or hose down pavement, hotels must offer guests a chance to reuse sheets and towels and restaurants can only serve water upon request.