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Newsom urges more water conservation; warns of statewide Calif. mandates

Newsom urges more water conservation; warns of statewide Calif. mandates
Dried lake bed bakes in the sun at Nicasio Reservoir in Nicasio, California, on July 10, 2021. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Monday statewide water conservation mandates may be necessary due to the continuing drought. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

May 23 (UPI) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday implored the state's largest urban water suppliers to step up their conservation efforts to avoid possible future mandatory water restrictions.

Newsom, addressing leaders of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, East Bay Municipal Utility District and other large water suppliers in Sacramento, urged them to "take more aggressive actions" to combat the state's ongoing extreme drought conditions.

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If voluntary efforts on a localized basis aren't enough to meet water conservation targets, he cautioned, statewide mandates could become necessary.

"Every water agency across the state needs to take more aggressive actions to communicate about the drought emergency and implement conservation measures," he told the utilities.

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"Californians made significant changes since the last drought but we have seen an uptick in water use, especially as we enter the summer months," Newsom added. "We all have to be more thoughtful about how to make every drop count."

The water agencies were given the leeway to craft their own conservation efforts after California's 2012-2016 drought, when they argued that greater local flexibility on drought response was more effective than statewide mandates.

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Newsom has so far embraced the localized approach, but warned Monday their conservation efforts are falling short. The utilities failed to reach a statewide goal of 15% water use reduction by March.

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In response, the State Water Resources Control Board will vote Tuesday on implementing a statewide ban on watering of non-functional turf in the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors.

The panel will also consider regulations requiring local water suppliers to implement further restrictions as Californians face the possibility that water supplies may be up to 20% lower due to the latest extended drought.

If enacted, every urban area of the state would come under a local plan to reduce water use -- only about half of California's population currently face such local restrictions.

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The state endured the driest first three months of a year in its recorded history from January through March. Its largest reservoirs stood at just half of their historical averages.

Meanwhile, California's snowpack is just 14% of average, the governor noted.

The state water board reported this month that due to a third consecutive year of extreme drought, more than half of the state's 1,300 small water systems and 312,000 domestic wells are at risk or potentially at risk of experiencing drinking water shortages and failing to meet water quality standards.

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