California Considers Easing Some Water Conservation Mandates

California cities that are hot, dry or crowded, or have managed to come up with new sources of water, might be able to get a slight break in the state's drought-time water-conservation targets, state officials said Friday.

California's Water Resources Control Board is slated to decide in February whether to slightly ease water-conservation targets for some cities and towns. Gov. Jerry Brown mandated last year that the state overall had to see 25 percent less water use by cities and towns to cope with the state's four-year drought.

Water board officials gave details Friday, saying they are considering reducing conservation targets by up to 8 percent for some of the state's more than 400 water agencies. That's higher than an earlier draft in December, which suggested up to 4 percent cuts in the targets.

Eric Oppenheimer, the board's chief deputy director, said the changes would be only "modest adjustments" in conservation goals for the drought.

The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) has been asking for this kind of relief since the control board released mandatory water conservation standards, implemented last June. Water districts in San Diego must save between 12 and 36 percent of their water.

But local water officials say those targets were passed down from the state without taking into consideration what San Diego has done to become more water independent in the last two decades.

Notably, the county opened the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere to provide a drought-proof source of water.

Earlier this month, the SDCWA filed formal comments asking that the water board ease restrictions for districts in the San Diego region.

State water officials said Friday that communities that were especially hot or dry might be able to get a slight cut in their conservation targets. So may communities with fast population growth, and communities that have developed desalination plants, wastewater-recycling plants or other sources of new water also might get a break.

Water agencies will likely have to apply for some changes, while others would be automatic.

California is in its driest four-year span on record, and officials anticipate a possible fifth year of drought. Weather forecasters say a strong El Nino weather system could drench the state, but one good year won't be enough to rehydrate the parched landscape.

Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus said officials will reassess conservation requirements in April after the rain and snow season.

In Southern California, local governments have argued state officials should acknowledge huge investments in new supplies to prepare for drought. Orange County recently expanded wastewater recycling to produce 100 million gallons of drinking water daily.

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