Uneven CA water cuts prompt public outcry

Water spigotA cascade of new water regulations has brought the drought home to millions of residents across California, cutting into their indoor and outdoor use and, often, prompting an outcry. But the impact of the regulations, handed down at different levels of government, has become significantly uneven, sowing the seeds of further controversy as the cutbacks continue with no end in sight.

Transforming landscaping

Following on Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order mandating swift and sustained reductions in water usage, California regulators brought yet another type of consumption to heel. “The state Building Standards Commission voted to change development rules to reduce the demand for water,” the Associated Press observed. “Developers can meet the rules by planting shrubs and bushes instead of grass or installing slow-trickling valves instead of traditional sprinklers.”

Regulators expected the decision to bring significant savings — about 20 percent less across all California lawns. “Outdoor irrigation,” noted the AP, “accounts for roughly half of residential water use.” By the middle of June, residences, workplaces, schools and hospitals will all be subjected to the new strictures.

Riparian regulations

The curbs on thirsty lawns followed fast on sharp new demands imposed on historic farms by the State Water Resources Control Board. In an unprecedented move, a group of farmers recently offered to reduce their consumption by 25 percent relative to 2013 levels. Now, regulators have accepted the plan.

“The action applies only to so-called riparian rights holders, landowners whose property has direct access to a river or stream,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “By volunteering the cuts, Delta farmers avoid the risk of being hit with even larger cutbacks mandated by state water regulators.” According to the Times, the move brought one especially precious form of relief, taking away “the threat of lengthy and divisive litigation in a time of crisis.”

But not all farmers have accepted the new status quo. Some, reported the Contra Costa Times, hired attorneys “to assert that the state is defying statutes that honor their seniority. The water board’s order exceeds the scope of the state’s authority, the lawyers contend.” Farmers complained that they were pushed to offer a deal in order to avoid Draconian, potentially devastating penalties. And the state’s order that rights claimants show proof of property ownership has touched off an angry scramble for documentation.

“To defend their place in line, senior rights holders have rushed their ancient documents to analysts in the Division of Water Rights in Sacramento,” according to the Contra Costa Times. “Who, where and what rights will be curtailed in coming weeks remains to be determined, water officials say. Cutoffs will be based on flows in the watershed — and how long rights have been held.”

Local outrage

Meanwhile, in areas where cutbacks have already been adopted, some water agencies have moved ahead with even sharper penalties for current levels of use. San Jose Water, a private company supplying much of Silicon Valley with drinking water, followed the lead of nearby Santa Cruz and mandated steep new reductions in residential water consumption. As the San Jose Mercury News reported, “the company announced it would give all single-family residences — defined as any home that has its own water meter — monthly water allocations requiring a 30 percent reduction from 2013 levels. Apartments and most businesses won’t receive them.”

One detail in particular provoked a public outcry: “The 30 percent cut isn’t based on each home’s individual use. Instead, it’s calculated on the month-by-month average of all residential users in San Jose Water’s service area.” Company officials endured an hours-long hearing that drew some 350 dismayed locals, but remained — like officials across the state — largely unmoved. “It’s not like the spigot is going to go dry,” said Palle Jensen, senior vice president for regulatory affairs, according to the Mercury News. “You can still use water. But you will have to decide how.”

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  1. Vomski
    Vomski 2 June, 2015, 07:55

    There needs to be a lawsuit.

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  2. Vomski
    Vomski 2 June, 2015, 08:04

    And not a lawsuit just again the State, County & City but against the individual office holders. Until it hits them personally these officials are going to continue these injustices.

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