California regulators eye whether to keep water-saving rules

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Water regulators in California will consider Wednesday whether to extend conservation measures prompted by the lengthy drought — even though the state has seen one of its wettest winters in years.

Regulators have said they aren't certain the rain and snow will last into the spring.

But Republican State Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber is leading a coalition of law makers and water districts that believes it's time for Gov. Jerry Brown to end the emergency or lose the public's trust.

"This is an emergency?" Nielsen asked. "It's pretty hard to argue to the public, the citizens of California, that we are now in an emergency."

The State Water Resources Control Board will meet Wednesday to consider lifting the restrictions.

The regulations are largely symbolic because roughly 80 percent California water districts say they have ample supplies and aren't requiring residents to cut back on how often they water lawns and flush toilets.

Californians heeded the call to conserve water during the height of the five-year drought. But the weather has dramatically changed, which everybody can see, Nielsen said in a letter to the governor that was also signed by other officials.

January rains drenched the state and filled some reservoirs. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides much of the state's water as it melts in the spring, recently measured at 182 percent of normal.

A storm on Tuesday flooded 40 homes in Marin County, near San Francisco.

The rain total in downtown Los Angeles since October — the start of the wet season — has reached 15 ½ inches — far exceeding the normal annual rainfall.

The governor's office referred request for comment on ending the emergency to California Natural Resources Agency spokeswoman Nancy Vogel, who said in an email that the state is "not yet declaring an end to the drought."

Some residents in the San Joaquin Valley still survive on bottled water because their wells are depleted, and swings from wet to dry years is only intensifying with climate change, Vogel said.

Brown declared the drought emergency in 2014 during the driest four-year period in California's recorded history.

He later ordered California's nearly 40 million people to cut water use by 25 percent —the first mandate of its kind in the state.

The State Water Resources Control Board, which enacts regulations, relaxed the requirement last year, allowing local districts to set their own conservation measures.

Tracy Quinn, a senior water policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, wants the state to hold onto its restrictions. She says it's unclear what weather spring will bring, let alone next year.

She says water districts aren't always motivated by conservation because their revenue is often tied to how much water they sell to customers.

The healthy snowpack and brimming reservoirs don't tell the whole story, she said, noting that the drought decimated groundwater supplies that will take years to be replenished.

"This is a long game," Quinn said. "Although we have had a welcomed respite from the drought, we don't know whether this is an aberration in an extended drought."


AP writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Sonoma and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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