Cities: California water reduction order unrealistic, unfair

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

California cities that are being told to slash water use are pushing back against Gov. Jerry Brown's mandatory reductions, but it's not likely that regulators will retreat with the state in its fourth year of drought.

The State Water Resources Control Board was expected to release regulations Friday spelling out how much water urban districts will have to cut to meet Brown's order.

A draft plan calls for some cities to cut water use by more than a third. Dozens of affected agencies say the expected water use reduction targets are overreaching, unrealistic and unfair.

The sharpest criticism has come from smaller agencies where water use could plummet 35 percent. The city of Folsom, 30 miles east of Sacramento, could have to double the amount of water it saves, even though it has enough water stored in reservoirs for its residents during the drought.

“The city's ratepayers and taxpayers should not be forced to perpetually 'do more' and 'pay more' to rectify the lack of regional self-reliance of other areas in California,” City Manager Evert Palmer wrote in a letter to the water board.

Planned reduction targets are based on 2013 water use rates — before the governor declared a drought emergency. Major cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego are telling regulators the state's approach does not take into account the steps and money agencies have invested to save and store water to prepare for California's drought.

“If not taken into consideration, ratepayer support for future reliability improvement projects will become challenging,” Halla Razak, director of public utilities at San Diego, wrote the board, citing an upcoming project to make sewage water drinkable.

The water board has downplayed similar complaints in the past, noting the state may have to adapt permanently to drought conditions and must compare water use to periods before the drought emergency.

Water agencies also say the reduction targets are based solely on per-capita water use and don't take into account the differences in landscaping and climate across California.

“It is not reasonable for Bakersfield to be penalized for being located in a drier climate, with less precipitation,” wrote Colin Pearce, an attorney for the Central Valley city that is expected to cut its water use by 35 percent.

Huge water cuts also come with consequences, agencies say, including big drops in revenue to water departments and a hit to the economy if manufacturers and other businesses are forced to scale back operations.

Max Gomberg, a senior scientist at the water board, said the board is making changes to its regulations but wouldn't elaborate before the measures are released Friday.

Lester Snow, former secretary of natural resources for the state and now president of the California Water Foundation, said it is natural for cities to push back and he doesn't expect the board to overhaul its regulations.

“We are in a serious situation and if we're still in a drought one, two, three years from now and we don't take this action, the public is going to wonder why we didn't,” Snow said.

Some groups fear their image will be tarnished because of the drought.

The Almond Board of California is holding a call with reporters to rehabilitate the image of its product, which has become a symbol of water guzzling.

The California Pool and Spa Association has hired a public affairs firm in Sacramento and is among the business groups meeting with Brown to discuss the drought.

CaliforniaCalifornia droughtCalifornia NewsGov. Jerry BrownState Water Resources Control Board

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