Rich Pedroncelli / AP

California adopts unprecedented water cuts

California water regulators have adopted sweeping restrictions on how people, governments and businesses can use water

California water regulators adopted sweeping, unprecedented restrictions Tuesday on how people, governments and businesses can use water amid the state's ongoing drought, hoping to push reluctant residents to deeper conservation.

Click here for the latest news and analysis of the drought

The State Water Resources Control Board approved rules that force cities to limit watering on public property, encourage homeowners to let their lawns die and impose mandatory water-savings targets for the hundreds of local agencies and cities that supply water to California customers.

Gov. Jerry Brown sought the more stringent regulations, arguing that voluntary conservation efforts have so far not yielded the water savings needed amid a four-year drought. He ordered water agencies to cut urban water use by 25 percent from levels in 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.

“It is better to prepare now than face much more painful cuts should it not rain in the fall,” board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said Tuesday as the panel voted 5-0 to approve the new rules.

Urban users will be hardest hit, even though they account for only 20 percent of state water consumption, while the state's massive agricultural sector, which the Public Policy Institute of California says uses 80 percent of human-related consumption, has been exempted.

San Francisco is required to cut its water use by 8 percent, Los Angeles by 16 percent, San Jose 20 percent and Sacramento 28 percent.

At the high end, the cities of Bakersfield and Modesto in the state's agricultural San Joaquin Valley and the affluent Southern California city of Beverly Hills will have to conserve by 36 percent.

Brown, a Democrat, has defended the agricultural exemptions, saying that the state's farmers have already had to make do with less water as the state restricted supplies for irrigation amid environmental concerns in the drought.

Although the rules are called mandatory, it's still unclear what punishment the state water board and local agencies will impose for those that don't meet the targets. Board officials said they expect dramatic water savings as soon as June and are willing to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag.

Despite the dire warnings, it's also still not clear that Californians have grasped the seriousness of the drought or the need for conservation. Data released by the board Tuesday showed that Californians conserved little water in March even though the state is in its fourth year of drought, and officials fear it may last as long as a decade.

Brown said last week he would push for legislation boosting authorizing fines of up to $10,000 for extreme wasters of water, but he needs legislative approval to do so, and no bill has been introduced. Another tool — tiered pricing, in which the price rises as water use goes up — is in question after a court struck down water rates designed to encourage conservation in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County.

Wire services

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