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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Thirsty California Hit Water-Savings Target in September

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Californians continued to slash water use in September, combining to reduce urban use by 26 percent and meeting Gov. Jerry Brown's mandatory drought restrictions for the fifth straight month.

The Golden State has met Brown's target every month since they were enacted in June, and also reduced enough water to meet the target during a trial run of the order in May.

While the State Water Resources Control Board praised hundreds of water suppliers for reaching their conservation goals in a media call Friday, it announced the first fines for communities repeatedly missing their conservation targets. Three cities and a desert water district were fined a maximum penalty of $61,000 for falling short of their state-mandated standards: Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and the Coachella Valley Water District.

The four water suppliers have consistently failed to reach their standards since Brown's order in June, Chris Carrigan, the water board's chief of enforcement, said.

"Communities that are significantly off the mark have missed the opportunity to fully reduce high levels of outdoor irrigation during the summer months," Carrigan said. "These penalties send a signal that there are consequences for failure to achieve the conservation standard."

The water board said that Beverly Hills is 11 percent behind its cumulative goal of 32 percent water savings since June and 175 million gallons short of compliance. Carrigan said the majority of Beverly Hills' water use comes from residential users and that many homeowners simply ignored the mandatory restrictions. He also criticized the city for failing to issue a penalty or fine to residents since June.

In comparison, the city of Clovis - a suburb of Fresno with a population of 102,189 - has issued more than 23,000 penalties to water users over the same period.

Beverly Hills will have 20 days to request a hearing to dispute the $61,000 penalty and the water board said more fines and cease-and-desist orders could be possible this month.

Many communities continue to answer Brown's conservation order, including parts of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Contra Costa Water District saved 41 percent compared to September 2013 while the California Water Service Company East Los Angeles has doubled its conservation total over the summer.

In total, 72 percent of California's water suppliers are meeting or exceeding their required conservation goals.

"Up and down the state, residents and water suppliers are making the necessary sacrifices needed to help California meet its conservation goals," Carrigan said.

With a projected strong El Nino approaching this winter, the water board stressed the importance of continuing to conserve water despite the increased chance of a wet winter. Water board chair Felicia Marcus said there is no guarantee that Northern California will receive enough snow and rain to replenish the state's dwindling reservoirs.

"We simply can't be gamblers while we're in the worst drought we've seen since records started being kept," said Marcus.

With California facing a rain debt equal to a year's worth of statewide precipitation and a likely fifth year of drought, Brown pleaded Friday for federal aid to help fight a bark beetle infestation that has killed millions of trees stressed by a lack of water. Brown called the dying forests "the worst epidemic of tree morality" in the state's history in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

State officials estimate more than 22 million trees have died because of drought conditions and on Friday Brown declared a state of emergency to enhance resources to remove dead and dying trees.

In the letter, Brown wrote the mass amount of diseased trees increases the state's risk of wildfires and of trees falling in rural communities.

"A crisis of this magnitude demands action on all fronts," Brown wrote.

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