SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California is done with gentle nudges and polite reminders to deal with its devastating drought.

State regulators are naming and shaming local water departments that have let water wasters slide – and forcing them to slash water use by as much as a third. They say it’s necessary as California reservoirs, and the snow on mountains that is supposed to refill them, reach record lows.

Among the last straws was new data showing the worst water savings in February since officials started tracking conservation.

Along the south coast, home to more than a third of Californians from San Diego to Los Angeles, residents actually showed an increase in water consumption despite longstanding calls for cutbacks. And water use along the coast is expected to increase this summer as tourists and seasonal residents flock to beach homes.

“These are sobering statistics and disheartening statistics,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District is proposing reducing by 15 percent the amount of water it supplies to more than two dozen agencies and cities.

The MWD, which serves 19 million people, said Wednesday that its board of directors would vote on the across-the-board ration proposal during its April 14 meeting.

The effects of the cuts would vary between local water agencies. In areas that have been slow to conserve, agencies will have to strengthen restrictions and boost local rates to avoid financial penalties the MWD will impose on excess demand during the state’s drought.

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the cuts, which would take effect July 1, were proposed before Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a 25 percent mandatory restriction on urban water use last week.

Brown planned a meeting Wednesday on the drought with representatives from water agencies, agricultural interests and environmental groups.

State officials say they’re prepared to slap large fines on agencies that don’t take steps to conserve or meet reduction targets, although they haven’t used similar powers earlier in the drought.

Places such as Newport Beach must make drastic improvements. Residents of the wealthy beach town use about 120 gallons a day, compared to 100 gallons for others who live along the southern coastline. City officials have spent months telling residents about the water regulations and ways to cut back, and they’re now seeking new authority to issue fines.

They have reduced residential lawn watering to four times a week, twice as often as state recommendations allow, and prohibit residents from refilling their pools more than 1 foot a week.

“We liked the friendly approach, and it seems to be working well, but we aren’t afraid to issue citations,” said George Murdoch, the city’s utilities general manager.

Some cities must drastically improve water savings. San Diego and Los Angeles must cut water use by 20 percent. Others such as Santa Cruz, which already has cut its water use by a quarter, are likely to easily meet smaller targets.

The water use data show the difficulties of changing longstanding habits, such as watering lawns, washing cars and taking long showers.

The water board has given local water departments discretion to set their own conservation rules, but it has established some statewide regulations, such as banning lawn watering 48 hours after rain and prohibiting restaurants from serving water unless customers ask.

The agency also plans to have municipalities penalize overconsumption through billing rates.


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