California cities are pushing back against Gov. Jerry Brown's order for mandatory water use reductions, but it's not likely that regulators will retreat with the state in its fourth year of drought.
The State Water Resources Control Board's proposal to meet Brown's order has some cities slashing water use by more than a third, and it will be updated in the coming days. Dozens of affected agencies say the expected reduction targets are overreaching, unrealistic and unfair.
In an attempt to reward water-conscious communities, the board is suggesting cutbacks tied to water use in September. Critics say that doesn't take into account different climates from the coast to the desert and longstanding conservation in cities that include Los Angeles and San Diego.
The board's proposal "treats agencies with a history of saving water the same as others that are now only beginning to meter water used by their consumers," Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District, which provides water to 19 million people in Southern California, said in one of 200 letters commenting on the proposed regulations.
Board officials have downplayed similar complaints in the past, noting the state may have to adapt permanently to drought conditions and must compare water use to 2013, the year before the governor declared a drought emergency.
Even so, other cities say the board is ignoring efforts to make their water supplies drought-proof by building local storage and developing technology such as desalination.
The city of Folsom, 30 miles east of Sacramento, could have to cut its water use by 35 percent, even though it has paid millions of dollars to store enough water for its residents during the drought.
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"The city's ratepayers and taxpayers should not be forced to perpetually 'do more' and 'pay more' to rectify the lack of regional self-reliance of other areas in California," City Manager Evert Palmer wrote to the board.
The governor on Thursday said all communities share a common responsibility to ensure California has enough water to get through the drought.
"We're tied together," Brown told reporters. "We use water and the water flows from the mountains to the rivers and the aqueducts and out the faucets and out the bay."
Huge water cuts will come with consequences, agencies say, including big drops in revenue to water departments and a hit to the economy if manufacturers and other businesses are forced to scale back operations.
"For some areas, achieving a 35 percent reduction will mean stopping growth," said David Luker of the Desert Water Agency in Palm Springs, which anticipates losing $10 million with the cut proposed by the state.
Max Gomberg, a senior scientist at the water board, said the board is making changes to its regulations but he wouldn't elaborate before the measures are released on Friday or Saturday.
Lester Snow, former secretary of natural resources for the state and now president of the California Water Foundation, said it is natural for cities to push back and he doesn't expect the board to overhaul its regulations.
"We are in a serious situation and if we're still in a drought one, two, three years from now and we don't take this action, the public is going to wonder why we didn't," Snow said.
The board also expects to order farmers and cities with water rights to stop taking water because of the drought as soon as next week, executive director Tom Howard said on Thursday. The comments came after Brown met with representatives of hotels, cemeteries, spas and other businesses affected by drought restrictions. Some groups fear losing business if they become symbols of water waste.
The California Pool and Spa Association has hired a public affairs firm in Sacramento. The Almond Board of California held a call with reporters to dispute the image of the nut as a water guzzling crop.