Written by Nick Cahill for Courthouse News Service
After two years of being held to strict drought-inspired conservation laws, California’s over 400 water suppliers are free to sell as much water as their customers will buy.
Drought regulators on Wednesday rescinded the state’s “stress test,” which required urban water suppliers to certify they have enough water to endure at least three consecutive years of drought. The decision to nix conservation requirements comes nearly three weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown ended the state’s three-year emergency drought declaration.
Brown issued the state’s first ever mandatory water conservation laws in April 2015, after a spring Sierra Nevada snow survey turned into a hike through a brown, snowless meadow. Suppliers and residents were ordered to cut back water use by an average of 25 percent as the state’s reservoirs and rivers withered in the drought.
Wednesday’s order leaves in place some urban restrictions, including bans on hosing down sidewalks or landscape watering after rain.
Water agencies will still be required to report their monthly water usage as the water board develops permanent efficiency standards. The water board and Department of Water Resources has until May 2021 to set the long-term water conservation laws, which will require suppliers to plan for droughts lasting more than five years.
The drought took a punishing toll on the Golden State, killing an estimated 100 million trees and causing billions in economic losses to the state’s lucrative agriculture sector. Enhanced groundwater pumping dried up wells and several Central Valley communities are still relying on water-tanker deliveries.
The historic drought also hampered hydroelectric production and increased both energy prices and smog levels, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pacific Institute.
Electricity bills jumped $2.45 billion over the five-year stretch as producers were forced to rely on power from fossil fuels. As a result, the study found a 10 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions from the state’s power plants.
The study says power generated from the state’s 287 hydroelectric dams appears to be trending downward, potentially due to climate change. Less water means less electricity produced from it.
“There is growing concern that the current drought may be part of a longer trend toward more extreme weather,” the study by the Oakland-based nonprofit states.