In drought-stricken California, cities push back against steep water cuts

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 15, 2015 10:31 PM

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Cities set to feel the brunt of California's mandated cutbacks in water use pushed back on Wednesday, calling a plan by regulators to demand reductions of as much as 35 percent in some communities unfair.

Water utilities in the areas surrounding the state capital of Sacramento, in line to face steep rationing despite years of conservation said factors such as leaks in the delivery system from streams and reservoirs, and the needs of big local water consumers like prisons and hospitals should be considered before a region was penalized.

"I am not against severe conservation," said Rob Roscoe, General Manager of the Sacramento Suburban Water District, which serves about 173,000 people in Sacramento's northeastern suburbs. "But I want everybody playing from the same rulebook."

Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown, standing in a dry mountain meadow that in a typical year would have been covered with five feet of snow, ordered a 25-percent statewide reduction in water use for urban areas.

In order to reach that goal, Brown said, cities that already used less water than others would suffer smaller cutbacks, while those who used more per capital would have to reduce their usage by a higher amount.

His order, as a devastating drought moved into its fourth year, created the first statewide mandatory water rationing in California history.

Last week, the State Water Resources Control Board released a basic framework to meet that goal by forcing cutbacks of up to 35 percent of water use for communities that use higher amounts of water per person.

But those communities say the proposed rules are not based on a fair reading of how much water they use.

For example, the calculation does not consider whether the communities were using water that they had banked for their own use so that their residents wouldn't have to worry about running low, Roscoe said.

It also doesn't consider the environment where a community is located, or how fast the water that is used outdoors evaporates, the trade organization representing the state's water utilities said in a letter submitted to regulators and released on Wednesday.

The plan also doesn't give communities credit if they return clean water to local aquifers and streams.

Cities also complained that their economies could be hurt if businesses that use a lot of water to process food are penalized.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein)