Clovis News

Conservation plan dominates water debate

SACRAMENTO -- California lawmakers are considering new conservation rules to slow the state's insatiable thirst for water. But so far, they haven't been able to agree on a proposal that satisfies cities, farms and environmentalists.

The debate over details is part of a larger battle over legislation that would remake how the state stores, moves and manages its water.

Negotiations are ongoing, but lawmakers have struggled to find common ground on the proposals, which include a bond to pay for new projects, such as dams, as well as policy changes including groundwater monitoring and a new agency to oversee the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Here's a closer look at the latest conservation proposal.

Question: What's the problem?

Answer: The state's water supply is not growing, but its population is.

Farms still use the majority of the state's water, but urban use is growing faster and is projected to jump by 33% by 2030, according to a report by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force.

Why conservation?

Most Democrats and environmentalists say it is the quickest and cheapest way to meet growing water needs.

New dams would produce up to 1 million acre-feet of water annually, compared with up to 3.1 million acre-feet freed up each year by new water efficiency programs, according to the delta task force, which cited state Department of Water Resources statistics.

What's on the table?

The latest bill targets a 20% reduction in statewide water use by 2020, but not every city would have to meet that threshold.

What about farms?

Agriculture water suppliers would not have to meet a specific target. Instead, the suppliers would have to submit plans to use water more efficiently, including charging farms for water based on how much they use. Suppliers that have federal water contracts, such as Westlands Water District and Friant Water Users Authority, already do these things under federal law.

What if a city or farm district does not comply?

They would be ineligible for state grants and loans.

Would Fresno residents see much change?

Probably not. The city is preparing to install water meters for the first time, and this alone will result in enough conservation to get close to the 20% target, officials say.

Is this fair for other cities?

Cities that already have meters, such as Clovis, and are found to be efficient with water would likely not have to make a full 20% reduction. But all cities must make at least a 5% cut.

Are there regional differences?

Yes, and this is a point of contention. The bill allows cities to choose from among several methods when determining how much they need to conserve.

One method allows cities to meet regional targets set by state regulators. Each target is different, accounting for the fact that each region now uses different amounts of water per capita. For instance, Southern California typically uses less water than Northern California.

But opponents of the bill say the targets ask little of coastal areas and seek too much conservation from regions with hotter climates and more-sprawling developments, which require more water -- for landscaping, for instance.

A possible compromise being discussed by lawmakers would require the state to set new targets accounting for climates and development patterns.

Are there other disagreements?

Yes. Here are a few:

Agriculture lobbyists are pushing to exempt more small farm water districts from having to submit efficiency plans. Environmentalists say farms aren't being asked to do much and that this would weaken the bill.

Also, Republicans want assurances that lawsuits could not be filed if water agencies don't meet conservation targets. Democrats say the bill would not allow such lawsuits.

But Democrats at least want state regulators to be able to consider conservation when hearing complaints that a district is wasting water.

Some environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, say the bill already is too weak and will never lead to a statewide 20% reduction.

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