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Governor: Mandatory water reductions
Ceres manager says Browns aim is at cities which havent cut back
Dead lawns
More and more residential lawns may become brown and dying if new watering restrictions enacted by Gov. Brown actually go into effect. The governor also wants to see 50 million square feet of water-sucking turf be removed in exchange for more drought tolerant landscaping materials. Most believe the rules are aimed at cities who have not curbed use. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced last week the first-ever mandatory water reduction measures to be implemented in communities across the state, a testament to the severity of the ongoing drought that promises to be problematic in the upcoming summer months.

Just what that means to cities like Ceres which have already done a good job in water conservation remains to be seen.

"Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action," said Brown. "Therefore, I'm issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reduction across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible."

While saving water is the aim of the order, Brown also vocalized the importance of increasing enforcement, streamlining government response, and investing in new technologies during the drought to prepare for the unknown future.

Measures to save water include partnering with local governments to replace 50 million square feet of lawns through the state with drought tolerant landscaping and banning watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

"What is being reported on, there's a whole lot more to it, most of what we're already doing," said Ceres City Manager Toby Wells. "The thing that's being widely reported is the 25 percent reduction but if you actually read the executive order, it's a statewide reduction compared to 2013 and the State Water Resources Board is required now to create guidelines and basically targets for all municipalities which will take into account cities which have made reductions already.

"So the moral to the story is we don't know what our target is yet."

Wells' understanding is that cities that have done a good job in water conservation will not face penalties.

"Those cities that haven't done a very good job, they're going to be expected to do more."

Ceres, he said, leads the nine cities in Stanislaus County for water savings with use down 25 percent from 2008. Most cities in the Valley have already enacted water saving measures, including meeting the state mandates of metering all water use for homes.

To get more water savings would not come without many paying a high price, Wells said. The city would have to pay for in enforcement and residents would have to take their yards out or letting them go brown and ugly.

While the state is prohibiting new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water and creating a temporary statewide rebate program to replace old appliance with more energy and water efficient models, any further restrictions specific to residents rest with the city manager.

Wells noted that most residents don't have a lot of money to pull out their lawns for landscapes that use more rock and less water.

"If they're done right, obviously there's some nice landscaping you can put in but that means it's done right and designed and for the guy doing that on the weekend is not going to hit that aesthetic," said Wells.

The Ceres City Council will be receiving a report on Monday, April 13.

The governor is also requiring large facilities, like campuses and golf courses, to make significant cuts to their water usage.

"The university has always taken its obligations to the state, the people and the environment very seriously and has implemented a number of water-saving measures to date. We will study the governor's executive order and assess our plans to ensure we are in compliance and are conserving as much water as possible on campus," said California State University, Stanislaus spokesperson Tim Lynch.

Lynch said the University also plans to install meters to track water use at various sites and explore the possibility of reclaiming water from HVAC systems to use for irrigation. There is also a plan to reduce the amount of lawn and turf around campus and replace some with drought-tolerant plants.

In an effort to increase enforcement, water agencies will be required to adjust their rate structure with conservation pricing to discourage waste. Agricultural users will also have to report their water use information to state regulators. The California Farm Water Coalition released a statement in support of the governor's new requirements:

"Identifying illegal diversions and wasteful use of water will benefit the state's overall water supply. Whether on the farm or in urban areas, illegal water diversions and wasteful use must stop. We have a system of water rights in California that everyone should abide by. Anyone who is circumventing the law should be identified and face the consequences."

Other actions required include updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and mandating that local water suppliers report water usage, conservation, and enforcement actions.

The governor's interest in streamlining government processes is aimed at making the review process for voluntary water transfers and emergency drinking water projects easier and also directs state departments to help families on properties whose well has run dry by providing them with assistance to temporary relocate. He is also prioritizing the state review of water projects by requiring state agencies to report to the governor's office on any application pending by more than 90 days. Lastly, the permitting and review of emergency drought salt water content barriers, which keep freshwater supplies in upstream reservoirs for human use and habitat protection for endangered species, have been listed as a priority in the order.

Congressman Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, released a statement on Wednesday in response to the Brown's order and lamented that there was no emphasis on storing water for the future, something he expressed as key to California's water supply.

"In 2009, water agencies throughout California predicted that the new requirements placed on our state's water system would leave us with no water during a prolonged drought. Fishery agencies and environmental groups balked, claiming this day would never come. With the fourth year of drought upon us, these kinds of policies are hurting California farmers, families and the environment, as Governor Brown's announcement today shows. Decades of inaction have finally caught up with California's refusal to build new storage. Conservation alone isn't the answer," said Denham.

The governor is looking ahead in the sense that he stated investing in new technologies as a priority. With the hope of making California more water efficient he announced planes to administer a program through the California Energy Commission to incentivize promising new technology.

Elizabeth Arakelian contributed to this report.