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New Water Restrictions in California Set to Start Despite Record Rainfall

New Water Restrictions in California Set to Start Despite Record Rainfall

Water is released on the main spillway at Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif., on June 15, 2023. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

2/14/2024

Updated: 2/16/2024

While a powerful atmospheric river followed by additional rain has brought record rainfall to California since Feb. 4—further dampening the state following a thus-far wet year—many cities and counties may soon be required to enforce water conservation measures per the state’s proposed regulations.
According to the California’s State Water Resources Control Board, the new requirements—which go into effect in January 2025—aim to tackle “climate-driven” impacts, such as droughts, wildfires, heatwaves, and the latest precipitation and flooding.
“California is experiencing large swings between drought and flood and those swings are becoming more severe,” a spokesperson for the water board told The Epoch Times Feb. 9 in an email. “The recent storms and flooding seen statewide are proof of this shift and emphasize the importance of staying prepared.”
Currently, the Golden State remains completely free of drought—a status it has maintained since late September—according to the latest drought monitor map released Feb. 6 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Climate Prediction Center.
Under the 2023 proposed California Water Plan, about 400 of the state’s largest urban water suppliers are required to establish and implement a water usage target every year starting next January.
Based on the plan, local water suppliers are required to reduce water usage by nearly 15 percent, and 33 percent or more in inland areas, by 2035. Objectives can differ by community and are determined by factors such as population served, outdoor landscape water needs based on regional climate, and weather conditions of the previous year, according to the water board.
“If hot and dry conditions increase landscape water needs, suppliers’ objectives would rise and suppliers would have to do [more] to meet their objectives, compared to wetter or cooler years,” the board said.
The Central Valley and Southern California’s inland regions are expected to bear the brunt of the new rules. Conversely, regions with already high levels of water conservation, such as the Bay Area and coastal Southern California, may initially experience minimal to no reduction requirements, according to the plan.
Few visible signs of drought are seen 800 feet above Shasta Lake on Feb. 14, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

Few visible signs of drought are seen 800 feet above Shasta Lake on Feb. 14, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

If local agencies fail to set or meet their targets, they could face fines of up to $1,000 per day or $10,000 per day during drought periods.
The board is scheduled to vote on the plan later this year, and if approved, the new rules will take effect Oct. 1, although water suppliers must comply with reductions starting the following January.
While the new regulations target local water suppliers, experts suggest that the costs required to meet these objectives will likely be passed on to residents and businesses.
Sonja Petek, principal fiscal and policy analyst with the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, said in a recent interview with EpochTV’s “California Insider” that water agencies might promote rebate programs for homeowners and businesses by offering incentives for buying water-efficient appliances and switching to drought-resistant landscaping.
However, such programs could create financial burdens for low-income communities as they cannot afford the upfront cost for them, she said.
Additionally, suppliers may need to increase their staffing to comply with the new regulations, potentially resulting in further rate increases, Ms. Petek said.
“As a customer of your water supplier, you may see rate increases in your water bill over the 2025 to 2040 period,” she said.
Additionally, Ms. Petek pointed to some practical challenges in the implementation of water saving programs, saying the expectation that all residents can effectively redesign and upkeep their landscapes under such programs appears overly optimistic.
“We have some concerns that it might not exactly be realistic to assume that every resident in the state would be able to sort of redesign their landscapes and then maintain them at that water-efficient standard,” she said.
Visitors walk as snow falls in the Grant Grove of giant sequoia trees during an atmospheric river storm in Kings Canyon National Park, Calif., on Feb. 1, 2024. Currently, the statewide snowpack is at 52 percent of its historical average. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Visitors walk as snow falls in the Grant Grove of giant sequoia trees during an atmospheric river storm in Kings Canyon National Park, Calif., on Feb. 1, 2024. Currently, the statewide snowpack is at 52 percent of its historical average. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Aside from local implementation challenges, Ms. Petek said while reducing water usage could help the state get through dry years, the new regulations provide no direction on conserving water during wet years.
“We think the Legislature might want to start thinking about how to track and manage that water to really maximize the benefits of this new conservation framework,” she said. “If the state were able to save that water, either through groundwater banking or other methods for use during dry years that could really help increase the state’s drought resilience.”
According to the California Department of Water Resources, the recent storms have brought the state’s total precipitation to 13.77 inches as of Feb. 12, reaching 100 percent of the historical average.
The rain has also replenished reservoirs statewide, bringing them to 118 percent of the historical average as of Feb. 12, according to the water department. The two biggest reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, reported reaching 83 percent and 79 percent of their respective capacities, also as of Feb. 12.
However, heavy rain isn’t enough to replenish the state’s water supply as most doesn’t translate into snow in the mountains, according to the water board.
“Changing precipitation patterns—more rain instead of snow and an increase in the duration, frequency, and intensity of atmospheric river storms—may not only lead to greater flooding, but to reservoirs having to release more water early in the spring, making less water available in the summer and fall,” the water board said.
Currently, the statewide snowpack is at 52 percent of its historical average, the water department reported Feb. 12.
A local water expert echoed Ms. Petek’s concern about the state’s lack of planning for water storage when Lake Oroville reached 100 percent capacity in June.
According to Darcy Burke, board director of the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District, located in western Riverside County, over 26 million-acre-feet of water—enough for 75 million households, nearly double the state’s population—had to be released into the ocean between October and May in 2023.
Reservoirs are full, she said, and some water has been lost that should have been saved.
“We have no place to put it,” she said last summer. “[Lake] Oroville is full and it’s spilling. All the excess water ... is going off the spillway, not generating electricity.”
Ms. Burke said that reservoirs are also crucial to replenishing groundwater supply.  According to the water department, 35 percent of the over 8,000 wells the state is monitoring are below normal levels as of Feb. 12.
“This one wet winter” in 2023, she said, “was not able to recharge our groundwater basins,” Ms. Burke said. “Water needs to slow down, needs to stay in place, and needs to slowly percolate through. We need more storage.”
Travis Gillmore contributed to this report.
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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