April 20, 2015 / 8:02 AM / 5 years ago

California revises drought plan after pressure from cities

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California water regulators on Saturday revised a still-tentative drought plan by easing cuts for Los Angeles and San Diego and bumping up reduction targets in the areas that consume the most water.

Homes with swimming pools and boathouses built around an artificial lake are seen in Indio, California, April 13, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The changes are an apparent response to criticism from cities, which would have taken the brunt of the cuts under the original plan presented earlier this month. But regulators are standing pat on what critics say is the initial plan’s leniency toward the state’s huge agricultural industry.

With the country’s most populous state entering the fourth year of a devastating drought, Governor Jerry Brown has ordered an overall 25 percent cut in urban water use though the first statewide mandatory reductions in California’s history.

The plan, developed by the state’s Water Resources Control Board, is scheduled to be approved in early May, but officials said more fine-tuning could take place before then.

“We’re not at the point where we can set a single target for everywhere in California, because climates are so different and because we’re in an emergency,” Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said in a conference call with reporters.

Brown has said cities that already use less water than others would have to make relatively smaller cuts, while those with higher per-capita use are facing more stringent targets.

The plan that regulators presented earlier this month would have divided local water agencies into four tiers, imposing a 10 percent conservation standard on those that use less water per capita and a 35 percent standard on those that use the most.

The plan unveiled on Saturday essentially doubles the number of tiers. Regulators said the additional categories would mean agencies with similar levels of consumption would not fall into tiers with vastly different curtailment standards.

Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s No. 1 and No. 2 cities, respectively in population, would each find themselves in a tier with a mandatory curtailment of 16 percent under the revised plan, compared to 20 percent in the tier they would have fallen under in the previous plan.

The suppliers with the highest per capita water use would have to accept a 36 percent cut, up from 35 percent.

Meanwhile, environmentalists and some urban dwellers say the state’s $45 billion agriculture industry should bear a greater share of water savings, given its massive water use.

But Marcus defended the industry, saying farmers have already “taken very severe cuts.”

The water board has proposed fining water utilities up to $10,000 per day if they fail to persuade residents and businesses to meet their conservation goals.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis

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