California Backs off|Mandatory Water Orders

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – California’s water regulator, pressured by lawsuits from water agencies, is backing away from its mandatory curtailment notices and issuing revised letters to 4,600 farmers throughout the state.
     A state judge on July 10 issued a temporary restraining order preventing the State Water Resources Control Board from enforcing fines on water districts.
     The water board changed course Wednesday, saying the curtailment notices telling farmers to stop diverting water were “only advisory.”
     The water board said it will reissue notices that it began sending in April to more than 9,300 junior and senior water rights holders, many of whom were told to quit diverting water due to drought for the first time since 1977.
     The revised notices tell water rights holders that while they are still allowed to divert water, the water board has determined that there is not enough water to serve their needs.
     The letters end by reiterating that fines of up to $2,500 per acre-foot of water taken illegally can still be issued.
     Four state judges have sided with water district that challenged the curtailment orders through which the regulator is implementing Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order.
     Brown issued mandatory water restrictions in April for the first time in state history, directing the water board and lawmakers to find ways to conserve water. Brown and the water board also ordered urban water users to cut back water use by an average of 25 percent.
     Compounding the problem, a U.S. Geological Survey study revealed that nearly 20 percent of California’s groundwater used for drinking water contains high amounts of chemicals. The study focused on 11,000 public wells and found potentially dangerous levels of chemicals such as arsenic and uranium. Thousands of the state’s private wells were not tested for the decade-long study.
     The state also announced enhanced restrictions on landscaping for new homes, schools and businesses. Newly constructed residential buildings’ lawns may cover only 25 percent of their combined front and back yards. The ordinance takes effect Dec. 1.

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