SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced this week that his city would be deploying water cops and offering money to rip up lawns in an effort to save water during an escalating drought.
He's among several leaders of California cities, including Los Angeles, proclaiming commitment to water conservation and vowing to move ahead of the state in slashing water use with initiatives including awareness programs, incentives and beefed-up enforcement with warning letters and fines.
Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order mandating water use reductions as the Sierra snowpack, California's key water source, vanishes. Days later, regulators released plans to enforce his order by assigning each city a water use reduction target, some as much as 35 percent.
The governor's moves are providing some cover to local officials who may have to implement fines for water waste and increase water rates, politically unpalatable measures.
"Mayors can say 'We have to do this. Not only because it's right, but we really don't have a choice; it's a mandate from the governor,'" said Sherry Bebitch-Jeffe, a senior political science fellow at the University of Southern California.
Faulconer repeatedly mentioned "mandates" from the capital on Wednesday as he detailed plans to let some city parks go brown and to fine residents. San Diego, which already has low per-capita water use, had little water savings to show over the past year even after imposing a three-day a week limit on watering lawns and a requirement to immediately fix leaks. A draft state proposal demands a 20-percent cut in San Diego water use compared to 2013.
"Drastic water reduction at this level ordered by Governor Jerry Brown and the state is, of course, no easy task," Faulconer said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Thursday that the city was launching a broad water conservation campaign that would include television and radio ads, signs on garbage trucks and fliers passed out at libraries. The campaign is touting existing programs, including rebates for adding water efficient appliances and drought-tolerant landscaping.
Garcetti's spokesman Yusef Robb said the campaign was planned well before Brown's demand for mandatory water cuts and is a continuation of the mayor's own order for a 20-percent water cut. Los Angeles officials say the city is on track to meet that goal by 2017, although state regulators want cities to make big cuts before the end of the year.
Smaller communities have also responded to the governor's order. The South Coast Water District in Laguna Beach adopted a slew of new restrictions, including a ban on filling swimming pools. The Desert Water Agency in Palm Springs publicized a public hearing to finally adopt basic limits on water, including no sprinklers running off into pavement.
Water conscious communities didn't have the same need to announce sweeping plans. San Francisco, California's third largest city, is among the state's biggest water misers using an average of 44 gallons per person, per day since the state started tracking conservation.
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