Gov. Jerry Brown ordered California on Monday to permanently follow some conservation measures taken during the state's drought.
Brown's order on Monday came as state water officials considered whether to ease a 20 percent conservation order for cities and towns after a winter of storms that brough rain and snowfall to Northern California. Any changes proposed on Monday would likely go before the State Water Resources Control Board on May 18.
Brown's executive order does not set a mandatory percentage for saving water, but requires cities and towns to continue monthly reporting of water use. In addition, bans on overwatering lawns will become permanent.
"Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before," said Brown. "But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life."
Brown's executive order also requires better drought planning from cities and farmers.
The state is also required to prepare emergency water restrictions for 2017 in case the five-year drought persists.
Southern California remains firmly locked in a fifth year of drought after El Nino-fueled storms remained to the north during the winter months. The storms brought near-normal snow and rainfall to Northern California, filling major reservoirs.
Overall nearly 90 percent of the state remains in drought.
The easing drought has prompted many water districts to say they want to set their own conservation targets. Others say the state should completely drop the drought emergency.
Officials, however, say the bruising drought has not ended, and nobody knows how much rain and snow will fall next winter.
The stewards of California's water are grappling with the challenge of passing on the benefits of increased runoff from the best snow pack in five years, while at the same time encouraging consumers not to abandon conservation measures.
Tuesday, the governing board for Southern California's largest wholesale water importer, the Metropolitan Water District, will consider stepping down from stage three to stage two. In so doing, it would eliminate provisions for penalty charges for member agencies that use more than their allocation.
It is expected some members will want to exceed their allocations in order to replenish reserves, said Deven Upadhyay, manager of the MWD's water resources management group.
With more water available from Sierra snow-melt via the state water project, MWD also expects to be able to increase its own reserves back to 2014 levels, Upadhyay said.
At the same time, MWD is launching a new advertising campaign to encourage the customers of its members to continue conserving.