SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California on Monday prepared to lift severe mandatory water conservation orders imposed at the height of the state's multi-year drought, after a wet winter led to swelling reservoirs and a deep snowpack in numerous parts of the state.
Instead of requiring a 25 percent, state-wide cut in water use, the state would take into account climate and other regional factors. People in rainier regions had complained that the cutbacks were too onerous.
California is in the fourth year of a devastating drought that has led farmers to idle land, made rivers too warm for salmon and left some reservoirs half-empty despite winter rains.
"The regulations were effective but a somewhat blunt instrument," said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.
On Monday, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown ordered state water regulators to extend some drought protections, such as a prohibition on irrigating lawns and landscape so intensely that water runs down the sidewalk or into the street. He also demanded a new plan for making conservation a way of life over the long term.
But Brown's order did not include an extension of the mandatory 25 percent cutback he ordered last year, nor of rules banning restaurants from offering water to customers who do not ask for it.
In 2015, Brown ordered the state's first-ever mandatory conservation, calling for a 25 percent reduction in urban water use over nine months and leading Californians to save enough water to supply 6.5 million people for an entire year.
Under a new plan proposed by water regulators on Monday, communities instead would only be required to cut back usage if they expect to run out of supplies.
For example, if projections show that a future dry year would leave a community short by 10 percent, residents and businesses there would have to conserve by 10 percent, said Max Gomberg, the water board's climate and conservation manager.
The new plan, to be voted on by the water board later this month, takes into account regional differences in climate and population. It also recognizes that some communities have increased their supplies for dry years by building desalination plants, reservoirs and underground storage facilities.
If approved, the plan would go into effect in June. It will eventually be replaced by a long-term strategy aimed at reducing per capita water use by more than 20 percent.