In a major policy shift, California is ending its sweeping, historical water restrictions amid signs the drought is easing in what analysts are calling a positive development for water utilities.
Regulators ended “a 25 percent reduction rule that had applied to all residents after a roaring El Niño winter... eased drought conditions,” the San Francisco Business Times reported.
El Niño rains managed to fill key reservoirs in Northern California, while Southern California remains deep in drought.
This policy shift puts more power in the hands of local officials to respond to the conditions they see in their area. Decisions will now be based on "supply reliability considerations at the local level," according to the State Water Resources Control Board, per NPR.
“Starting next month, hundreds of local water districts will set their own conservation goals,” the Associated Press reported.
“Some districts might set strict conservation goals for residents and businesses, while others could determine it is time to lift conservation mandates altogether,” the AP reported.
Fitch Ratings predicted that reining in drought regulations is a positive development for water utilities, likely resulting in “higher sales and better financial performance for water issuers in fiscal 2017,” the ratings agency said.
Max Gomberg, the Water Resources Control Board’s climate and conservation manager, described the aim of the changes.
“The goal here is to back off a little and say, ‘OK, it’s not the... emergency it was, and so we’re going to move to the Ronald Reagan model of trust but verify,” he said, per the Los Angeles Times.
He acknowledged that some agencies may set their conservation goal at zero savings.
“No one wants to publicly report that their water supplies aren’t able to withstand drought,” he said, per the report. “They have their own pressure for painting a rosier picture than is actually warranted.”
Some environmental advocates say it is too soon to roll back mandatory cuts. Sara Aminzadeh, executive director of California Coastkeeper Alliance, questioned the wisdom in the policy shift.
"What do we think Beverly Hills is going to be proposing in terms of conservation?" she said, per the Times. "I think it's a risky approach, especially as we head into the hotter summer months."
Therese Kosterman, a spokeswoman for Beverly Hills, said the city is still evaluating the new guidance, but emphasized a goal of “maintaining a permanent state of vigilance over water use.”
To read more about California’s drought visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.
Image credit: "US National Flag and California State Flag, City Hall, Santa Monica," Ed Uthman © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/